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Before, PnoyAndTheCity was a simple blog where I would post my column pieces that regularly appeared in Philippine News. Today, this website has become a premiere website for Pilipino Traditional Culture with exhibits like Carriers of Tradition, specializing in the backpacks of the Northern Philippines. Perhaps the best exhibit on this website is "Traditional Music of the Southern Philippines": perhaps one of the most comprehensive websites about Kulintang culture on the web. This exhibit is used as the main text for ETHS/MUS/DANC 545 , a Kulintang class at San Francisco State University taught by the great Kulintang master, Master Danongan Kalanduyan . He is the main consultant behind the building of this exhibit and much of the photographs and instruments shown are from his class. On this website, you’ll not only find descriptions, uses and functions of all the instruments in the kulintang ensemble but scripts of different pieces played on the kulintang as well. Enjoy.

This column recieved the New California Media Special Achievement Award for the Best Youth Voice for 2004. Considered by the NCM as Ethnic Pulizter Prizes, this runner-up award was in recognition of the column pieces, "Unconsciously Filipino and Expedition into Filipino 101".

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Created by Aga and Riza Butocan, this cultural site focuses on Maguindanaons of Simuay in Sultan Kudarat, with various descriptions of the Palabunibunyan, "ensemble of loud instruments".

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Run by Zonia Elvas Velaso, the artistic director of the Filipino Folk Arts Theatre in Dallas, this site devotes its focus on kulintang music and culture and is filled with tidbits from various names of the instruments in the region to how the gongs are tuned.

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Created by Gregg Butensky, this Asian intensive site has a section devoted to Master Danongan Sibay Kalanduyan. A slew of photographs from PKE's performance at Pistahan 1997 can be found here as well as an excellent biography on Master Kalanduyan. Top notch.

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This is the site of the premier Filipino American newspaper in the States. Running on its 46th edition, this paper, which I write column pieces for, receives 100,000 visits a day.

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LBC runs this website and Filipino American newspaper with the same name. On its 13th edition, the paper, which some of my features have been in, continues to provide information and advocacy needs of a rapidly growing Filipino American population.

Powereed by Blogger is run by none other than the supreme kulintang master himself, Master Danongan Sibay Kalanduyan. Interesting tidbits about kulintang music and his group, Palabuniyan Kulintang Ensemble can be found here along with various CD's and DVD's that he is releasing. Check out their calender for his upcoming events and click here to watch an excellent video presentation of Master Kalanduyan on the KQED program, Spark TV.

Like what you see. You could e-mail me at this very long address: Yes, it's long but hey... at least you could contact me.

This photograph collage displays a priceless collection of backpacks from Northern Cordilleras region of the Philippines. Running through early 2004 at the Hohenthal Gallery, Treganza Anthropology Museum at San Francisco State University, these bags, some estimated to be hundreds of years old, were exhibited by Charisse Aquino, the curator of the event.

Tobacco carrier – Tinakaw (Tingguian)

Joe Camel would be proud. That’s because this pasiking was specifically designed for tobacco. The fatter and more open complexion of this pasiking made it easier to handle the delicate tobacco leaves of the Ilocos.

Hunter’s Backpack – Fangao (Bontoc)

So what do you thing this is made of? You’ll be surprised. “It’s actually a fiber of bangi which is another type of palm” Charisse Aquino said of this pasiking of the Bontoc. “It used for waterproofing so when hunters go out, their meat won’t get wet.”

Backpack - Lagpi (Isneg)

These bags, with multi-colored tassles hanging from their embroidered waistband, look like they deserve a shot a Louis Vutton showroom. Strangely though, these backpacks open in the back and peaked at the top, are known by the Isneg as lagpi and they were used not by women but by men.

Backpack – Pasiking (Kalanguya)

Notice the high heels on this backpack. Why does it wanna be taller than the rest? “This wooden base shows that you put it in soil so we know that it was used in wet farming areas such as the rice terrace,” Charisse Aquino said. O… that’s why.

Backpack – Sakopit (Kalanguya)

The purpose of this bag seems simple: for carrying around chickens (their head will stick out on one side.) Don’t get bit.

Hunting Backpack – Inabnutan (Ifugao)

Gone Huntin’? No need for a rifle and camping gear. These simple backpacks would do. This is a inabnutan, similar to the Bontoc fangao. It held all their hunting provisions nicely protected under a coat of bangi, a type of palm, which when processed has the appearance of hair.

Ceremonial Backpack – Bangeo (Ifugao) (top left)

If you think of a funeral, things such as a Hertz come to mind. For the Ifugao, you’re looking at theirs. This backpack is used for a himong, a funeral ceremony where those wearing this bag remain at the front of the bangibang, procession.

Ritual Basket – Punamham (Ifugao) (top right)

Yummy. In this Tupperware-shaped box, researchers found sticks, betel net and yes, adidas (aka chicken feet). But unlike the akub and the topil, this was not used for carrying food. This rattan punamham is actually for ritual used be a mumbaki (shaman) for healing rites, divination and sorcery.

Deer Pasiking – (Ilonggot) (top left)

This bag gives a new meaning to the word “road kill”. Apparently, those lucky Cordilleras who had access to fresh road kill could make a backpack out of the entire hind quarter of a deer. Seriously – I’m not joking!

Traveling Backpack - Hape’ng (top right)

On a long jog and worried you wouldn’t be able to sit and relax? Well, if you’re carrying one of these multifunctional backpacks from Ifugao Corp. you’re in luck. Just take it off and sit on it. It’s square top and rattan hoops will support you just fine.

Basket - Labba (Tingguian) (top left)

Basket – Awit – (Kalinga) (top right)

O the basket. It may seem simple but each of the tribes has given it different names. The Tingguian call them labba, Kalinga call them awit, and the Isneg (not shown) call them aglimaman. Even with all these different names, their purposes remain the same carrying things from vegetables to nuts atop their heads.

Sacred backpacks – Tabka (Bontoc)

Chemical imbalances beware. These may look like the rest of the backpacks but don’t be fooled: it’s been said these packs have the power to cause serious mental illness. Among the Bontoc, these backpacks, owned by an entire family or kinship group, are believed to be representative of their ancestors. Kept next to the hearth at home (which pertains to their charcoal-like appearance), these packs are used to memorialize those befalling violent accidents or having a fatal encounter with a headhunting expedition.

According to locals, when the tabka is neglected, for instance, when it’s not checked periodically for damage and regularly replenished with rice and salted meat, harm and injury soon befall the caretakers. Such instance require begnas (welfare feasts), where men take the tabka out of the village for a short duration while the community, which sponsored the begnas, sacrifice and eat animals to appease the takba.

Cedula Case – (Gaddang)

This may look like the forerunner to the modern soda can but it was actually housed a cedula used for identification purposes says Charisse Aquino. “Basically it acts as a driver’s license or a social security card, for it states your name, where you’re from, and whether you’re married or single. During the Spanish period, everyone had to have it. That’s why Jose Rizal and all them burned their cedulas in protest.”

Backpack - Pasiking – (Kankan'ey) (top left)

Men’s Loin Cloth - Ba-al (Tingguian) (top right)

Ever wondered why Filipinos never kill house lizards? Perhaps this ba-al or loin cloth for men from the Tingguian may hold some clues. Weaved into it, is a lizard motif which is prominent in cravings all around the country such as along the edge of this pasiking from the Kankan'ey. The lizard apparently is known to represent good luck.

Lunchbaskets –Topil(top left)/ Akub (top right) (Bontoc)

Perhaps you’ve wondered where your habit of taking leftovers and sealing them in plastic containers came from. Well, wonder no more. These fascinating gems prove that times haven’t changed. They’re lunchboxes or what Charisse coined “the precursors to Tupperware.” “They use it in the rice fields. You could put you’re meat and rice and your kamote in there. They are very durable."

Locust Carrier - (Tingguian)(top left)

The purpose of this interesting pasiking has perplexed even experts but speculation has it that it’s likely to have been used as a cage. “Most likely the slots were made for some animal, like locust for they are known to be a good source of protein,” Charisse Aquino said.

Snail Sieve – Haydu (top right)

Dinuguan. Balut. Spam. Out of all traditional foods that continually seep onto Filipino tables, snails rarely come to mind. But surprise, surprise, locals use this bad boy to capture snails in the paddies after a rice harvest.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Those Country Filipinos

By Philip Dominguez Mercurio

When one thinks of the Filipino diaspora in America, a few designated regions usually come to mind. Cities from Daly to Jersey City are always mentioned. Then there are the beltways around DC and Houston. One could find them listening to the Tagalog choir at late masses at the Church of the Epiphany in the Excelsior district or congregating after mass at St. Augustine’s in Philadelphia. Whether in ships along the coast of Alaska to the inner valleys of California, it’s always been the same… either they’re found in major cities along either coast or in regions spanning where the manongs first began their lives many years ago.

Logically then, the last place one would mention would be the countryside of Tennessee.

Like, why would anyone go there? Hasn’t their history and shows like Jerry Springer told us anything about places we should avoid?

Well - let me tell you - just like the Filipinos found around the world, not only could they be found here - but believe it or not, they’re thriving here as well.

Located in the Tennessee Valley, this region, known as the Cumberland Plateau, is home to a sizable Filipino community with perhaps 150 to 200 Filipinos (including my own parents) living mainly in the small city, which anchors this entire region known as Cookeville - population about 25,000. Many have come here either in association with someone from the military or because of their profession. In fact, a host of physical therapists and a growing number of doctors have started living here with some of them creating successful private practices.

And thanks to the affordability of this area (not in food, since Tennessee is considered to have the “highest average tax on food” according to last month’s New York Times, but in everything else), not only have Filipinos started living here, many have begun living the good life. Gasoline prices here are relatively low (thanks to its closeness to the Atlanta oil pipeline) and state income taxes are nonexistent. Average home prices range in the 125K range allowing Filipinos to add extensions, buy second homes, or for those doing really well, purchase homes with thousands of square feet tacked on (believe it or not, a three story house with roughly 5000 sq. ft. of living space on a half an acre would only cost you about 500K. Yes, California - affordable housing does exist - even now.)

Now, surely things are different here than what most Filipinos in the U.S. are used to. The major supermarket/department store is Wal-Mart. One out of every three buildings along the major roads is a church. Fresh seafood is rare and store parking lots look like mosaics of the American flag (I noticed people here like buying their F-150s and Chevys either in the colors red, white or blue. Very nationalistic).

Despite those differences, these Filipinos remain unfazed. They enjoy the country life where everything is ‘down to earth’ so to speak. Traffic here is pretty much nonexistent and people at the cash register extend their ‘Southern Hospitality,’ to all their customers, sometimes to the point of annoying the city folk.

But perhaps their greatest reason for living here is their community’s closeness. Here, Filipinos know each other by name. Everyone gathers at parties at various Filipino homes during the season, letting the community foster even stronger ties, either to old friends or to new arrivals straight off the plane. Filipinos like Teresa would go out of their way to plant ampalaya perennially mainly for other to gather (that’s the fruit as well and the leaves). It’s a kababayan spirit in its purest form talaga.

Places like Daly City used to be like Cookeville. Folks at Tito Rey’s have told me stories about how Filipinos in Daly City used to be just like that. Filipinos drivers would wave at each other on the road or greet each other in stores. The community was very tight knit then. But today, you could barely get a wink out of another Filipino driver on the road unless they know you. Filipinos are so numerous here - being one doesn’t matter that much since it’s basically the norm.

Indeed, Filipino communities have grown in leaps and bounds throughout the States. Cookeville is just one of numerous unrepresented Filipino communities across the country. The rural population of American remains at about 70% so it’s likely there are many more Cookevilles out there -- their communities just as tight knit. But as these communities grow bigger there is a great tendency to lose our cohesiveness. The more of us around, the less likely we see the need to know who the next Filipino around the corner is.

I guess this is what makes communities like the one in Cookeville stand out from the major Pinoydoms.

It’s their cohesiveness - not their annoying Southern twang.

See this article,"Those Country Filipinos" in Philippine News. Click here.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Cha-Cha: Finding the shoe that fits

By Philip Dominguez Mercurio

It’s my understanding that since a good chunk of the Philippine workforce resides outside of the Philippines, it’s pertinent that those OFWs play an integral part in the coming charter change. OFWs represent a sizable portion of the overall GDP of the country. Why shouldn’t they?

But here’s a pickle. How about native Filipino Americans, meaning those born in the States. Shouldn’t we also be involved?

It’s a long shot of course. Folks like me have citizenship only in the States. Our affiliation to that country a journey away is either though our interaction with our own families like during the packaging of balikbayan boxes or whatever interactions we have within the community here in America. We may be ethnically Filipino but because we are generations away from our supposed ‘homeland,’ answering yes to such a question simply becomes implausible.

But can one really say that American Filipinos here shouldn’t even have a little say in the whole process?

For one, we’re routinely exposed to things back home. From our programming to our newspapers, American Filipinos are deluged with issues from the Philippines. Go to your local Filipino supermarket and see. We may be here in America but generally speaking, much of our headlines are still reserved for news back home. This goes in line with what Professor Daniel Gonzales suggested where it’s pretty much impossible to discuss the diaspora of Filipinos here in America without discussing their country of origin as well. They pretty much go hand in hand.

Then consider the fact that many Filipinos here in America are so involved in the process of promoting our cultural roots for the betterment of our people back home. One of my former classmates at San Francisco State University, Llayda Punsal, couldn’t help but point out the irony that back in the Philippines, Filipinos try their hardest to become Americans while Filipinos here in America try desperately to do the opposite - find their Filipino heritage to become Filipino.

San Francisco State alone personifies this concept. The university simmers with countless Filipino cultural groups, all inspiring to lift Filipino spirit here and aboard. The school alone is the caretaker to one of the largest collections of Philippine artifacts in the world.

On a personal note, I myself am involved with promoting Southern Philippine culture with Master Kalanduyan from Mindanao. He came to America to promote our culture by (ironically enough) teaching students here in America. His music heritage in Mindanao may be on the decline but thanks to globalization, when those in Mindanao watch Filipinos in America learn these traditions it becomes inspirational to the newer generation back in Mindanao. So, though we may be oceans apart, Filipinos in America continue to play a crucial part in the preservation and the dispersal of our culture and heritage back home.

So -- considering all this -- shouldn’t we be given the chance to participate in this so-called charter change?

I truly believe so. But speaking realistically, I’m sure it’s unlikely that officials back home would even consider such a request, especially from folks like me who never even set foot on Philippine soil.

Since my views are likely to be overlooked, I’ll get straight to the point. Although I’m happy that Filipinos are trying to figure out a way to make things right, I’m disappointed that those in the Philippines decided such a drastic change is necessary to try to achieve that end. I just don’t understand how newcomers to democracy such as Indonesia could go through an electoral process without a coup attempt and where much of their country is proud to vote (80% of their voters voted - this coming from a country bigger and supposedly more corrupt than ours - and believe it or not - they were able to figure out their presidential results in one day!). I really want to know why they were able to pull it off while we see the need for a complete overhaul instead.

With all this cha-cha going on, I’m beginning to imagine the Philippines as a shopper in a shoe store constantly changing shoes trying to see which one fits.

Will the shopper ever find her true fit?

I really do hope so.

I just hope she finally settles on one so the country can finally move on. - PDM

See this article,"Cha-Cha: Finding the shoe that fits" in Philippine News. Click here.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

All Wrapped Up

By Philip Dominguez Mercurio

Ever been to one of your relative’s houses, perhaps located in one of those ‘Pinoydoms’ along the Peninsula or the East Bay, hoping for some downtime?

You knock. They open the door, ask you if you had eaten but all you want to do is rest and logically eye their couch. You sit and sink slowly into the cushions. You try to relax but soon realize something odd - the couch begins enveloping your jeans akin to how a Venus flytrap slowly devours its prey. Once you realize your situation, it’s too late. Your thighs, your arms, already sweaty have merged with the couch’s outer coverings creating a sticky, if not unpleasant situation. You cringe in dismay but what can you do? They’ve covered the couches in, what else, but plastic.

Yes. That hideously thick layer of wondrous clearness that becomes uncomfortable the second you realize it isn’t leather. I encounter it every time I go to my Uncle Cristobal’s house. They saran wrap every piece of furnishing they have, not exactly the most comfortable situation for guests. But it accomplishes what they set out to do - keeping their décor from the retro 80’s looking like new - 25 freaking years later.

Now, if you’re Filipino, obviously you realized that it doesn’t stop with the plastic. Any type of material - old bed sheets, timeless draperies - as long as its surface area could manifest itself around something weighing over a ton and has yet to be tossed into the next box across the Pacific, is likely to be gingerly placed around any parcel of furnishing in the house. Couches, bookshelves, stuffed animals - you name it. Nothing is off limits.

Pianos are prime targets. My Ate Winnie used pure white covers for her old piano; my Ate Aileen donned hers with more tropical designs with hints of seagreen and teal while my mother covered hers with a nice thick pink bed sheet. My Aunty Gene went further wrapping her piano in a fuzzy material akin to Little Red Riding Hood’s coat. Just watch out if you’re wearing any Velcro though since you’ll likely to get stuck onto her cover like a fly on a spider web.

Electronics, just like furniture, are just as well covered. In my house, we cover anything and everything from televisions, VCRs, computer towers - even each of my gaming systems like my classic Nintendo 8-bit had their own, be it smaller covers. I’ve got to hand it to my Dad for resourcefulness though. Old t-shirts already filled with holes make for useful computer covers. And why buy expensive plastic see-through covers when your old underwear would suffice as a great cover for your fax machine. Just make sure you don’t accidentally step on it like I did - underwear becomes good camouflage on the floor.

I’ve become very anti-cover growing up this way. I couldn’t stand that after the ‘extra decorating’, the house looked as if someone is about to paint inside - or if you turn off the lights, there happens to be a host of ghosts in your living room - which is ironic considering how terrified my relatives are of ghosts.

But I’ll admit though, as much as you try to steer away from it, you get so used to it. My mother wrapped our piano in that pink bed sheet for 14 years now but taking the bed sheet off one day, the piano just didn’t look right. It needs the cover somewhat. It’s become a part of the instrument. I’ve become desensitized to the covers!

Some would say such deeds are done in part since we’re lazy and in effect, covering stuff detaches ourselves from the responsibilities of cleaning. But perhaps it’s more likely such folk, accustomed to having maids back home, desire for that life again where things looked like new, however many years after their date of purchase. We’ve evolved in response to our new environment, a maid-less culture if you will, by finding easier ways through life via the support of layers of cloth and plastic. In a way, the plastic has become our new maid - so to speak.

I tried using conventional methods like using Armor All to keep my things new and uncovered. But following in the footsteps of my ancestors is inevitable - below the rear window of my chading, I covered the back using the white casings given for coats and suits from Banana Republic to protect it from fading. O well.

I guess Sharika was right.

Underneath your clothes there is an endless story - or maybe just your fax machine. - PDM

See this article,"All Wrapped Up" in Philippine News. Click here.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Disturbing Comic Books

By Philip Dominguez Mercurio

We’ve all heard it before. The prime minister of Japan, Junichiro Koizumi goes to visit the Yasukuni Shrine to honor and pray for the 2.5 million Japanese who died during the war, including the war criminals. Insulted Korean and Chinese officials condemn the visit, canceling diplomatic engagements and threatening Japan with isolation. Japanese officials have removed references to colonialism and invasion during the war anniversaries as well as references to comfort women from high school textbooks, causing not only mass protests from Korea to Australia but increased anti-Japanese sentiments, like the building of war museums in countries such as China. It’s like a never-ending saga just like relations between Taiwan and China or Cuba and United States, where battles are played out not militarily but symbolically. Antagonistic feelings run high but never cross a certain boundary.

Recently though, something in the New York Times hinted to me that that boundary has started to give way. In an article entitled, ‘Ugly Images of Asian Rivals Become Best Sellers in Japan’, Norimitsu Onishi wrote about the rise, albeit quietly, of a new set of comic books in Japan.

For the untrained eye, one would have glanced over such books, believing they were just another series in the growing manga phenomena. That would have been true until one came upon the striking title, ‘Hating the Korean Wave’. Inside its pages are statements made by the characters such as, “There is nothing at all in Korean culture to be proud of.”

In another book, ‘Introduction to China,’ the Chinese are portrayed as cannibals and prostitutes whose principles, thoughts, literature, art, science and institutions were, according to a character in the book, “not attractive.” The books are deliberately hateful, cruel and historically dismissive. On the topic of war atrocities in Nanking, which its characters consider as Chinese fabrications there were insinuations that the infamous Imperial Army’s Unit 731 were “formed to defend the Japanese soldiers against the Chinese.”

Onishi says sales of ‘Hating the Korean Wave’ were astronomical, shocking even the publishers: 360,000 copies sold, apparently making these books bestsellers in the last four months.

It’s disturbing to see such a blatantly offensive book do so well in sales. Such feelings between Japan and their former colony were always there, long before the 20th century but were instigated particularly by recent events such as Korea’s advance during the World Cup 2002 and the “Korean Wave,” which had hit the shores of Japan at full force displacing much of Japanese pop culture in many sectors of Asia. Not surprisingly, its sales seem to reflect the growing envy the Japanese have upon the rise of Korea and China on the world stage.

Now, it’s one thing to defend one’s ideals and institutions from another’s accusations, which is generally what the government of Japan has been doing. But a direct attack – almost hatred – against other nationalities? What is the Japanese government doing about this open display of animosity from a certain segment of its media?

Accordingly to Onishi, nothing. There was little criticism leveled by any public officials, intellectuals or news media on those involved. Amazing!

Well, actually Onishi says there was one comment about the comics by a leading Japanese conservative group who suggested the books expressed issues, “extremely rationally, without losing its balance.” I’m guessing they believe a book in which China is portrayed as the “world’s prostitution power,” accounting for 10 percent of the GDP, all of this without evidence, is completely inoffensive. Again, I’m speechless.

As Filipinos, though we aren’t – yet— the direct target of these discriminatory remarks, we must be keenly aware of these disturbing events to our north. It was exactly these kinds of feelings of superiority to their fellow Asians during the late 19th and early-mid 20th that led the Japanese to their quest for an empire with our lowly archipelago ending up as part of their master plan. And unlike the apologetic Germans who after World War II became vehement advocates of peace (even firmly fighting against Bush during the Iraqi invasion), the Japanese continued to stay in relative isolation, denying much of the atrocities they carried out during World War II, believing the war wasn’t aggression on their part but was purely defensive.

Unfortunately, even with all this going on, the Philippines, like Hong Kong, generally has been mum about commenting on Japan’s hostilities during the war, neglecting to mention even their former invader’s name during their 60th anniversary ceremonies of WWII. This was done for purely economic reasons of course (can’t anger a country that produces our favorite SUV’s: the Montero and 4-runner), but what would it take for us to finally realize the seriousness of this situation?

Military buildups? Invasion? A comic book about us? I hope it doesn’t come to that.

See this article,"Disturbing Comic Books" in Philippine News. Click here.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Discrepancies in PCN Dance

See this article,"Bayanihan: tradition and truth in dance" in Philippine News. Click here.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Why We Are The Weakest Link

By Philip Dominguez Mercurio

I met one of my girlfriend’s relatives a couple of weeks back and the first reaction they said to me on learning I am Filipino was, “O, Abu Sayyaf.”

It was a joke of course but it gives a horrible first impression of the Philippines: Abu Sayyaf and stories about the kidnappings of businessmen.

Of course, we’re not alone in the negative department. Mention Indonesia and even now most people would associate the country with tsunami devastation. Bali, after the bombings, will forever be haunted by images of romantic couples blown to smithereens.

But I’m still aghast over the fact the Philippines has been associated with the Abu Sayyaf even among our closest neighbors in Asia. It just goes to show you how dreaded a reputation we seem to be gaining even in our own backyard.

But what really roils me is the fact that many of these terrorists who are ruining our reputation are foreigners. That’s right -- foreigner-fighters like the ones the Americans are finding in Iraq.

Those of you who have kept close tabs on the news would realize not all of these terrorists are associated with the bandit breakaway group of the MNLF, known as the Abu Sayyaf group. Some of the terrorists running around in our south are non-Filipino radicals belonging to such extremist groups as Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) to train in clandestine jungle camps in our homeland.

What the hell are they doing in our backyard, you might ask. Well, according to three captured Indonesian militants held by Malaysian security officials who caught them in Sabah on their merry way to Mindanao, they intended to the die as suicide bombers in the Southern Philippines. In fact, radical splinter groups from the JI have been recruiting thousands of new followers from militant groups in Indonesia or those fighting other Christian groups, most of them already been indoctrinated with hatred of the West.

Terrorist masterminds have found the Southern Philippines as a safe haven for their training camps after being halted in neighboring Kalimantan and in Afghanistan by America’s presence. Though much of the camps are mobile to avoid detection, that doesn’t mean they’re not sophisticated. Would you believe even on the run, these camps are still efficient enough to have facilities training in the use of biological and chemical agents? That’s both amazing and terrifying.

Knowing all this, it’s no wonder why we happened to be called the “weakest link on terror.” We may not be anything like Afghanistan but in terms of the presence of foreign terrorists in our midst, we’re one and the same. The Bali suspects, their decapitated heads plastered in newspapers worldwide, were believed to have trained in Mindanao.

The impact of these foreign fighters on our country is huge. The presence on our soil is already souring the fragile relationship that exists between the present government and our Muslim minority, creating more resentment. And not only are these terrorists ruining our reputation before the world community, implicating us as a terrorist country, they are scaring off tourists and investors. Imagine these terrorists using our playgrounds, our bus stops, shopping malls and trains to test how effective their equipment.

We must confront these foreigners, who, according to American sources, are entering with number about 100 or so a year. We must seal the border, Ate Glo. Create an impenetrable blockade, a wall if you will, along our southern border like the United States is building or the Chinese has done in their north.

President Bush was correct when he suggested the security of the nation was being threatened due to a largely unprotected border, although his theory, technically, is much more relevant in terms of our own country for unlike those from Mexico, terrorists have walked in and out of our territory whenever they felt it necessary.

Use whatever is at our disposal in our defunct navy - lifesavers or life preserves linked to floating buoys - to create a floating wall. Use our fearsome fighting chickens to man the shoreline, defending every inch of our beaches with their razor sharp claws. With the border in check, get rid of the remaining terrorist using our aging fleet of Huey helicopters, equipping them with balikbayan boxes (preferably the ones over 70 pounds) to crush these ingrates. Trust me, we may not have the ammo and the bombs, but don’t mess with the Philippines unlimited supply of corned beef and spam.

Who knows what suggestions above are actually feasible but the point is this: Do something. Our reputation, our security and above all our citizens demand it. - PDM

See this article,"Why we are the weakest link" in Philippine News. Click here.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

The Talking Gongs

By Philip Dominguez Mercurio

If you’ve ever seen a kulintang ensemble, perhaps at a Pilipino cultural event, you would have witnessed the incredible majesty and splendor that kulintang music has to offer. Unfortunately, you would have also missed all the functionality kulintang music has to offer as well.

Besides its entertainment value during community gathering, such as festivals or milestones, such as weddings, one of the major “responsibilities” of kulintang music – at least in Maguindanao society -- was in sending messages between parties. This is known as apad.

Now, how could that be possible using an instrument? Apparently, according to Master Kalanduyan, the Maguindanaons have been able to fit their spoken language into their own music in much the same way that Samuel Morse created a code of clicks and pauses to represent letters in the alphabet. Each syllable has a note, so a word may have a beat, turning sentences into whole stanzas. In essence, the Maguindanao could use their songs to transmit whole sentence without having to use the vocal cord. That’s pretty impressive considering that they have been using this for centuries even before Mr. Morse was born.

For instance, Maguindanaons have used the gandingan to warn other of eminent danger. Master Kalanduyan tells of how villagers escaped arrest by playing their gandingans on rooftops to forewarn the presence of Marcos troops on the horizon. A similar story told of a brother of a thief who stole a carabao who would ring his gandingan in order for the thief to escape by the time the police arrived.

Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of kulintang music is simply its application to everyday life. For instance, Master Kalanduyan told us if a man were practicing alone on the kulintang when his wife was at home and he wanted to have cooked rice when he got back from work, the man could simply send her a message using the kulintang, cutting off the song he was playing and play something that said, “Please cook rice because I am ready to work in the farm.” No vocal cords necessary. Just two beaters and a preference for the kulintang.

In informal settings of apad, the kulintang players are expected to include spoken words or phrases in their songs. Master Kalanduyan mentioned that kulintang players will mimic squatters on the street, playing a tune, begging for “20 cents, 25 cents.” Obviously, for those with a knack for the music they would know it was a joke but others would never know what really was going on.

Kulintang music also was their way of revealing their feelings without saying a word. Among the Maguindanao, messages using the gandingan played a major role in relationships where interaction among those of the opposite sex was prohibited. With the help of kulintang music, interested parties were allowed to interact and express their feelings to one other which sometimes led up to some couples eloping.

Of course, not all relationships lead to positive results. For instance, if friends were telling a boy that a girl liked him but the boy didn’t like her back, the boy wouldn’t resort to telling his friends literally that he didn’t like her. Instead, he’d only have to play the kulintang to express his reasons and his friends would be able to pick it up by translating his song.

Actually, when families are not spending time playing kulintang music together, much of the younger generation is using the gongs for ulterior purposes. For instance, when a few young men have access to a gandingan, it’s not uncommon for them to gossip about people they dislike. In fact, solo gandingan players would regularly end up “chatting” with other gandingan players further away, most of the time not knowing who they are talking to, even if it’s a man or a woman. Such talk has a resemblance of today’s chat rooms where users rarely know the identity behind the other person behind the screen.

During the night, the gossip would permeate the night air so much Master Kalanduyan told us that you could here all kinds of dirty words. This type of X-rated gandingan was usually a result of young men on their “guy’s night out.” Instead of going out drinking or gallivanting, they’d “talk.”

Usually this is done in the absence of women. Then again, when Master Kalanduyan was younger, he’d take the risk of playing these dirty phrases in the presence of women, which often disgusted them and encourage them to squeeze his ear. His usual reply to their action would be, “Good. You understood it. I was just trying to check whether you knew what I was saying or not.” What a smart aleck, my teacher was.

But by golly, these people have been literally “texting” each other for centuries?

See this article,"The talking gongs" in Philippine News. Click here

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Government says ‘sorry’

By Philip Dominguez Mercurio

Admitting something, especially something wrong, is always hard.

Upon hearing Ate Glo's admission a few months ago, I thought she dealt herself a deathblow. Most leaders would have instead stuck by some story denying the facts, especially in the Philippines where admitting one's guilt instantly throws you into the lion's den.

My thoughts were that she should have emulated her ally across the ocean, President George W. Bush who never admits to any wrongdoing. No matter what the facts presented, the news portrayed or the polls suggested, he continued steadfast on staying course at all cost. And if he had trouble defending his cause, he had a strong, unwavering cabinet to fight for him at every turn. Unlike the course taken by our madam presidente, his stance had given his government stability and above all, outright leadership.

Then came last Wednesday. President Bush came out and admitted he held some responsibility at the federal level for the failures to respond to Hurricane Katrina.

It was an amazing admission of sorts. I'm sure not even Las Vegas odds makers had this one on the books.

Now rarely do I go out on a limb and try to defend this administration in any way since I happen to be highly against many of their actions (or inactions). But I'd like to give them a pinch of leeway here.

First of all, let me say as someone who was very involved with meteorology before, it is impossible to predict the exact location a hurricane will strike even with the technologies of today. Many factors -- from water temperature, wind shear to the jet stream -- all play a part in influencing the path of a hurricane. Not only that but many tropical storms enter the Gulf of Mexico every year and no one really knows where they will go and what they will do next. So deciding where to position the National Guard days before impact is nearly impossible. And believe it or not, there are times where the final destination of these storms ultimately rests squarely on luck.

Parts of the gulf from Mobile, Alabama to the panhandle of Florida are much more prone to hurricanes than some parts of Louisiana and western peninsula of Florida. Those parts rarely get hit by hurricanes, and even when one seems headed straight for them, these storms magically change course. Take for instance a year ago when Hurricane Ivan was making landfall. Everyone thought it was going for a direct hit on New Orleans and people fled by the thousands via automobile. Same thing happened with Hurricane Georges in 1998. But the storms veered off into the "more prone" areas of Mississippi saving New Orleans for another day.

This incidentally leads to another problem. It's hard to call for mandatory evacuations. Yes, they are necessary to save lives but calling evacuations too many times would make the public wary of them. Some will start believing that they could ride out the storm the next time it's called since they weren't affected by the last one. Obviously, there's truth behind that short fable of the boy who cried wolf.

But perhaps the thing that may have taken many off guard was the news coverage while the storm was over New Orleans. Prior to impact, forecasters laid out the worst-case scenario where a 20-foot storm surge would rise from three sides of the city leveling much of the low-lying structures to the ground. Calamity seemed eminent.

But as the storm rolled through, it was downgraded to a Category 4 right before its impact. Reporters were standing on Canal Street in the middle of the 100 mph wind telling viewers not about the 20-foot wall of water but some of the falling debris. Our 24-hour news channels had their tickertape roll that New Orleans was spared the brunt of the storm. The city was "saved."

It was at that moment, when many of those involved, including the federal government took their eyes off the ball. For them, this was just going to be like the hurricane relief efforts of old, which have happened hundreds of times before. No one at that moment realized the impact the levy breaks would have upon the city.

So, I'm assuming this is why the government, from the local to federal screwed up. They assumed the worst was over and hadn't realized the disaster was still under way. They came in a relief effort mode, not in search-and-rescue mode. Now, I would have given them credit if they had realized in a day their mistake and switched their priorities by the next morning. But it took them many days. That's completely inexcusable. - PDM

See this article,"Government says 'sorry'" in Philippine News. Click here.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Housing Bubble and Hapless Immigrant

By Philip Dominguez Mercurio

Frenzied. Bubble.

All these words have now become synonymous with the frantic US housing market.

Looking at all the media reports, there isn’t any consensus, either from those in the real estate business to the government itself, where any of this is going.

Some claim that a collapse is eminent, perhaps within a year or two, citing studies that suggest incomes and job growth have not kept up with the housing demand. Handwriting on the wall points to weaker condo prices in Chicago, growing inventories in Washington and San Diego, and lower rents in Phoenix.

Then, there are others who suggest the housing market is fine and would slow down to a reasonable level but not totally collapse. They point to continued strong demand for homes as well as the low interest rates, which have led to another record of 7.3 million units sold over the last three months.

Then there are still others who suggest that there isn’t any bubble at all because the higher prices are simply the result of inflation and that added to maintenance fees and property taxes, the return on one’s property is actually vastly smaller than what the price of the house entails.

Newspaper reports reference similarities between now and housing bubbles of yesteryears to prove either case.

They resurrected memories of the Northeast and California housing market collapse 15 years ago where condo prices in Boston plummeted as much as 50% along with the Texas market.

And who can forget 1920’s Florida where people where are said to have chained themselves to their doors so they wouldn’t lose their property, some of which were actually under water.

Then there’s the case of Australia, where prices have reached astronomical levels for the last five years but dipped recently due to higher interest rates and imposition of special taxes on mortgages to discourage speculation. But unlike much of the other cases, there was no impact on the economy. As of now, it has remained sound.

Who knows whether the chorus of a housing bubble is meant to scare potential buyers so that speculators can cash in on the resulting housing glut, or those trumpeting the soundness of the market are actually dumping their houses. Only time will tell.

But one thing does bother me. Around Phoenix, my girlfriend’s parents noticed many For Rent signs, an indication that there was a demand for rentals. They concluded that the influx of undocumented workers, streaming in from the southern deserts, provided a new market.

It suddenly became like instant, free money. Once you get a property and rent it, not only will your property appreciate every month but your mortgage would be paid off and if you charged higher than your monthly mortgage payments, you’d even get extra money on the side. It’s a landlord’s paradise.

Along with the housing boom, came the creation of jobs and in fact, over the past two years 40% of the jobs created in the U.S. was due to construction alone.

With the Pew Hispanic Center claiming that 25% of the entire construction workforce is undocumented many of whom are finding more stable incomes at a mere $400 a week, only a few of them would be needed to pool their money together to rent a nice house. So indeed, this has been a windfall for investors who realize these workers can’t buy a house with no legal documentation but they need a roof over their heads.

But I think what these investors have forgotten is that, these are migrant workers who are constantly on the move.

Some are newcomers, but others were once agricultural workers who found the construction business provided a more consistent and better paying job. Their employers appreciate the skills and hard work they bring to the industry.

All is not well, however, in the construction front with reports that some foremen are corrupt and physically abusing their workers.

Police in certain cities have been known to harass day laborers, charging them with jaywalking and littering in places where they gather after work.

This is all on top of the militarization of the border and the so-called minuteman who act as vigilantes out to round up foreigners crossing the borders illegally.

Such a love-and-hate relationship parallels what Mexican and Filipino farm workers went through a century ago.

Strangely, Americans appreciated these workers for their cheap labor, creating affordable houses we could buy and then rent out to these same workers to create more affordable houses, which we again buy. But we still want them out, accusing them of taking jobs and bringing drugs and gangs to our towns. Are Americans hypocrites?

At any rate, we better hope the market sustains its construction whirl because if it does stop spinning, that workforce will move on -- and so will the renters -- and maybe even those low-interest mortgages. - PDM

See this article,"The Housing Bubble and the Hapless Immigrant" in Philippine News. Click here

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Fading Away

By Philip Dominguez Mercurio

Whew, am I tired. Just took the MCAT, also known as the Medical College Admission Test. Composed of four different tests ranging from genetics to phase-matter equilibriums compressed into eight hours of strategic mayhem, the MCAT attempts to wrangle one’s mind in every conceivable way possible.

The science problems were numerous, and we were given a small amount time to answer them. The essays in the reading comprehension section were as boring as they were long. The writing topics involved were vague and the dealings included issues such as whether great leaders are necessary for positive social reforms to how the massive amounts of information on the Internet could reduce its benefits.

When it came to these tests having rhythm is essential. When you lose that rhythm or get distracted, all hell breaks lose. Even I was thrown off on my Physical Science section. The proctor accidentally called out 45 minutes remaining when there were actually still more time. My rhythm soon went awry; my head worrying why my watch was absurdly slow.

It’s funny. After preparing for five to six months for a one-day examination, only the end result of the test (which should be admission to medical school) is of sole importance. Whatever details were discussed in the passages or whatever value the readings had is trivial if not completely meaningless to the test-taker. In fact, prep courses such as Kaplan, deemphasized the enjoyment of reading and learning these passages altogether, emphasizing only the bare skeleton on the passage to get the A-B-C-Ds correct.

Now, not all tactics require weak and non-substantial means to a decisive end.

Last April, the decision by San Francisco State to cut a class of Traditional Music of the Southern Philippines was met with stiff resistance. Some students gathered sympathizers to the cause, writing up petitions, inquiring with various teachers of influence for advice, submitting proposals to media outlets and literally got word out throughout the university and the community about the upcoming decision.

With pressures from various sectors accumulating within a matter of weeks, the current dean abdicated, caving in to the simple demands of the students: the reinstatement of Master Kalanduyan and his class. It seemed very much like an example of where hard work and unrelenting determination could surpass what many phrased in the beginning of our campaign as, “a done deal.”

Unfortunately for us, a minor glitch in our overall strategy may have left the class in peril this coming week. Since the reinstatement was processed at the end of last semester, the class was left off the bulletin, leaving students unable to know of its existence. Nor did we demand, as Professor Gonzales suggested, that ETHS 545 be part of a regular music program in which students could use it for upper division credits, which would have in all likelihood prolonged the class’s life (definitely longer than simply next semester). These unfortunate events have left the class vulnerable to cancellation with only two students (as of Thursday, 8/25) signed up for the class.

Over the summer, Master Kalanduyan expressed that this may be his last semester at SFSU. During our jams, we joked that maybe there would be more teacher assistants than students this semester. And upon looking at the current roster, that prediction remains with the class regrettably headed for elimination even before December rears its ugly head.

So in the spirit of our final campaign to save this last for one last time, I encourage you to come and see what this music is all about. If you have seen Master Kalanduyan or his derivatives playing at some Filipino events, this is your chance to see how this “music of resistance” is played out. If you have never seen or hear of a kulintang before (and I ran into many who have), this is perhaps the best opportunity to see one in action.

The class starts everyday on Friday at 3 p.m. in the Creative Arts building.

Indeed, we’ve gone through hell and back to save this class from the grasp of the budget-reaper.

But unlike the MCAT, our valiant efforts may have not been enough to fight off an inevitable fate for a class ready to fade into SFSU history. - PDM

See this article,"Fading Away" in Philippine News. Click here

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Corruption? No… It’s stability silly.

By Philip Dominguez Mercurio

I was dropping off Master Danongan Kalanduyan after one of our practices a few weeks ago. We were discussing his third trip to Alaska but as we entered the I-380 over crossing, we couldn’t help but stumble upon the wonderful world of Philippine politics. He had much to say, particularly about recent events and how La Presidente should resign.

I was trying to distance myself from the fiasco but it’s hard to avoid. Steve Angeles of Balitang Amerika was joking with me about how we should stake out the Arroyos, perhaps getting the chance to question them. Well… if I catch them playing mahjong, I’ll definitely let you know.

What really amazed me though was not what happened but how fast things unraveled.
Perhaps some of you have forgotten but just a few months ago, things were on the up and up. The economy reportedly grew by 6.1% (its fastest in 15 years) spurred on by the passage of taxes aimed at alcohol and tobacco. The Supreme Court opened foreign investment into the fledgling mining sector allowing fellows such as President Jintao to visit trouncing billion dollar investments for the industry. And even with continued political bickering over the stalled VAT tax dragging down the market, some investors remained optimistic finding opportunities in our blue-chip stocks believing they could ride out the political storm.

Now, we all know what happened next.

But here’s the thing. When things happen like this, we naturally cast blame on our country’s chronic corruption.

This makes sense until one realizes corruption is pervasive not only in the Philippines, but in every nook and cranny of Asian society. Rioting on the Chinese mainland has increased by the tens of thousands from just a decade ago due to the insensitivities of corrupt officials to the well-being and health of much of the rural populace. Corruption scandals have plagued Thailand’s Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s administration leading to his decreasing popularity. Sentences for six years were handed down to a cabinet minister and an aide from Malaysia’s ruling party, UNMO, both of whom were accused of bribing delegates during internal party elections. And investigations into Indonesia largest bank, Bank Mandiri, have produced lending irregularities, much of them connected to many powerful businesses, totaling upwards of 12 trillion rupiah. Corruption in fact in so endemic thorough Indonesia’s system, Singaporean officials decided to aid tsunami survivors themselves, literally using their military to bring in supplies and build homes with not a dime falling into the hands of Indonesian authorities.

Countries such as Indonesia in fact have been ranked regularly as one of the world’s most corrupt countries by Transparency International and therefore, if our belief in corruption is true, should logically be mired in economic slump like the Philippines.

That’s been true… until recently.

Some of the lowest interest rates ever are spurring construction of an amazing array of office buildings, apartment complexes and shopping malls in Indonesia’s metros. Malaysian and Singaporean investment firms and banks along with others from London and Frankfurt have sought out controlling stakes in some of Indonesia’s biggest banks. Philip Morris, the largest cigarette maker, planned their own takeover, this time of Indonesia’s third largest cigarette maker, PT Hanjaya Mandala Sampoerna, using an initial investment of $5 billion dollars to enter the world’s 5th largest cigarette market.

Now, it’s not like Indonesia suddenly ceased being corrupt. The increased consumer spending and economic expansion of 6.3% have all been on the heels of the election of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, a general who earned his MBA in St. Louis and earned a doctorate in economics in Indonesia (sounds familiar?). His promise to improve the business climate has yielded results and lead investment firms such as Fitch to upgrade the country’s creditworthiness. If there is a lesson to be learned from this… it’s that even in a world of crooked politics, economies could survive… even thrive.

And so coming back to the Philippines, perhaps corruption isn’t the biggest culprit driving down our country but the political haggling at the top. Some could pointedly cite the $70 billion deficit, the mired and often evaded tax collection system that has been cited as one of the worst in the world and the trickle of foreign investment (so small that even Cambodia had twice our amount last year, though they are 8 times smaller than us) as other major culprits in this unending downward spiral.

But unfortunately those problems are a part of the growing pains of up-and-coming nations. Malaysia’s economic weaknesses are beginning to surface after an economic over-dependence on heavy infrastructure spending that’s burdening their growing foreign debt. Thailand also is facing the harsh realities of ending their $2.2 billion fuel subsidies to the displeasure of the populace, 40% of whom polled giving a vote of no-confidence to the government’s future handling of the economic situation. But even with those problems, they are unlikely to cause a total meltdown of a government’s stability.

What it all boils down to then is the complete incompetence of those at our highest levels. Their bickering, often destructive, has leveled any hope that a sustainable economic recovery could be reached. I fully believe if everyone just shut-up, go about their business but keep on the down low, outside investors and foreign capital would start flooding in, even if not all the problems have been fixed yet. A country as corrupt as ours has the ability to improve but if its political climate doesn’t change; all the gains the country has made will evaporate.
It unfortunately has already. – PDM

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Defining Filipino II

By Philip Dominguez Mercurio

Recently, I got back from Atlanta and was pleased to find that my hotmail account was flooded with e-mail concerning the last column piece I wrote entitled “Defining Filipino.”

Some were in support of the column and the issue I wrote about. Others weren’t so enthusiastic.

Many chastised my conduct as irresponsible, careless, and others characterized the piece as “thoughtless, presumptuous and weak.” My two examples of others who I deemed were worthy for joining our rankings, failed to qualify in the eyes of some, prompting one to say they were “overbearingly irrelevant.” Some people believed the decision by the Filgrad was misguided, with one reader saying that their decision “reduced the history of the Third World Liberation Front at SFSU, the history of PACE and the militancy of self-determination.”

With respect to the girl in question, many questioned her right, her motive, her reasoning, with another reader telling me that “her efforts in our community were minimal,” and the only reason she joined was “to be with her friends.” From those I know and respect, they gave me a different view on the matter.

In retrospect, it’s understandable that such an issue would be met with such strong resistance. The Philippines and its people have been fighting for years from oppression from colonization so any “invasion” of that territory, whether from militaristic exercises to this action from those considered outsiders would have been dealt with an immediate and critical assessment.

Now, I’m sure it wasn’t the intention of the girl in question or the committee that decided to include her to demean the history and sacrifices of our forefathers by allowing her to participate as one of their members. Nor was it my intention when defending their stance.

When alluding to my examples of non-blooded Filipinos who I believe should be included among us, let me say that, I’m sure I’d have been able to write a whole essay about their individual contributions to our community, much more than sentence or two about pancit and kulintang that my column would allow. Perhaps the examples of what I wrote were not sufficient to some, but I would reiterate that they’ve done much more and removal of their contributions would have been a great lost to our community within their respective constructs of influence.

Now, there was something about some of the responses that disturbed me much of which went way beyond the scope of Filgrad. What I did fear was the sense that no matter what non-Filipinos do, they should never be accepted as one of us. One reader said, “Why is it that Filipinos must accommodate a white woman’s choices? Do we receive the same respect in the same way as white people? Obviously not.”

Another made the poignant argument, “You cannot become a Filipino through theory, extra-curricular activities, participation in community events or even denouncing your own culture.” According to both, only when we are accepted as Americans whose voices are equally heard and without racist comments placed against us can we place the whole concept of race behind us.

Now, no one denies the continuing saga which is the Filipino’s struggle for equality and respect around the world. Filipinos to this day struggle for religious freedoms in the heart of Saudi Arabia, are labeled terrorist for disparately looking for a better life by a freedom-loving America and receive no help from the Japanese or Korean governments who turn a blind eye from an entertainment industry which enslaves our kin in shady syndicates.

But if we decide to isolate our community only to ourselves and no one else in response to this unfair and unjust world, this ugly cycle will continue indefinitely. OFWs who continue to work in all corners of the world will never receive a hint of respect and dignity because those who treat us a second-tier beings could always reference instances where we’ve decided that no matter how closely others have decided to engage in our own community, we would not dare place them on a pedestal along side us. So, you think they will lift a finger to change reality to do the same for us in other parts of the world? Not a chance.

Now, our forefathers faced this same hostile reality, which belittled their role and value in the world. But what made their struggle awe-inspiring and inspirational… was not just their ability to stand up against their oppressors but it was the fact that Filipinos were able to organize, not just themselves but all workers of all ethnicities to come together and set forth on a common goal. Whether staged on the plantations of Hawaii, the fields of California, to the financial district in San Francisco, we were all reminded that Filipinos were continually and aggressively braking down ethnic, racial and cultural barriers to fight for a living wage, for freedom and equality not just for themselves but for all people, whether Chinese, Puerto Rican or Hispanic.

What the wealthier class of landowners feared about Filipinos … was not just their protesting-will but also their ability to unite with others for a common cause (of course in defiance of the owners who encouraged infighting among the races as their tool of control). So had it not been for their ability to organize and see past differences, Filipinos could not have achieved the success they did.

Yes, many of you were right.

Let us learn from the struggles of Filipinos and Filipino Americans who came before us. In spite of all the s**t they received from other peoples and other governments, they rose above and beyond the oppression, the racism and the colonialism and still came out with a sense of dignity and respect in their blood. Those colonizers may have played around with our language, destroyed our culture, imposed their own religion, institutionalized educational brainwashing, treated us like their little brown brothers, but we endured their torturous splat.

They came, saw and conquered even before we welcomed them with open arms, naively believing they had friendly intentions (in both instances). They sapped our resources for the growth of their countries halfway around the world but we were still willing to fight and die alongside those who have oppressed us. In every way possible, they tried their hardest to make us into their image but they forgot one thing: We will never see others or treat others as unequals like they have.

That perhaps is the beauty of the Filipino: our very humanity to all.

So in a way, those at Filgrad who decided to be inclusive could very well make the argument that they were making another step, be a small one in the direction of our forefathers.

I’m sure some of you perhaps are willing to include your own candidates (perhaps not the girl in question) while the rest of you will remain steadfast, citing that many of us have not received (or even worst) were denied the awards or respect from the rest of the world that we rightly deserve.

But by continuing to open the door to other respectable people who understand our experience into our community we would have denied our colonizers the power to destroy that one enduring quality that has remained with us for eons. And even better, by doing so, we would give our Overseas Foreign Workers and immigrants around the world the hope and chance that perhaps one day, those who oppress us would see that we have continued our goodwill through all the hardship and would turn around and welcome us in places such as the Middle East, in the Far East and yes…even in America. - PDM

See this article,"Defining Filipino II" and,"Defining Filipino III" in Philippine News. Click here

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Define Filipino

By Philip Dominguez Mercurio

Recently at Filgrad, an event for graduating Filipino students at San Francisco State University, a white girl wanted to participate in the occasion as one of 70 other Filipino graduates.

The organizers were delighted to have her participate since she was involved in many Filipino affairs as one of Professor Begonia’s students. So it seemed logical for her to top off her stay at the university by celebrating it amongst her closest peers.

Well, word got out about this around campus and some Filipinos students took offense against this action, brazenly insinuating that those representing our former colonizers should not be involved in what clearly was considered a Filipino-labeled event. In fact, it became such an issue Professor Begonia threatened to boycott the event if she wasn’t allowed to participate. The organizers of Filgrad weren’t deterred by such audacious accusations from a few meddling students, but apparently strong feelings were being displayed about the very meaning of the word Filipino.

What exactly is the definition of a Filipino? Professor Benito Vergara asked such a question to students at his Philippine Literature class, but they were unable to come up with any definitive response.

It seems like a simple question with a long list of answers.

What makes a Filipino? Is it his/her comprehension and understanding of the language? Or how much lumpia one has consumed in one’s lifetime? Is he a baluthead? Or has the specific angle of the nose something to do with being Filipino?

Of course, some of those criteria have been used to a certain degree but the most common criteria that props up usually is based on one’s own lineage- basically, whether or not the person in question has Filipino blood in them.
But even this criterion seems overtly flawed.

Consider Ava Tong for instance. She takes time off to apply her skills next to the great Master Kalanduyan every Friday to learn the Traditional Music of the Southern Philippines. She has her own kulintang at home and plays it better than me or others I know.

And I bet you not all Filipinos would be willing to devote their time and effort to this wonderfully enchanting music but when she has the time, she’ll be learning Mr. Kalanduyan some of the most difficult and mind-boggling versions of sinulog or binalig he can come with. She’s always been exposed to Filipinos through many of her friends and now she’s here, reveling in our ancient heritage. And the interesting thing is, she’s not even Filipino.

Then there’s Tony Smith, a retired member of the special ops, living in a small town just outside Music City USA. Neither is he Filipino, but he and his wife are thrilled to invite many Filipinos over to their humble abode for some lumpia and pancit.

He enjoys retelling his stories about his adventures living off just insects in the backwoods of Tennessee or the jungles of Zambales, all the while as he spins a 8-foot-long bamboo stick with a fully –grown pig tacked onto it. By nightfall, you could play mahjong with him all the way until daybreak, winning or losing 10 or 20 cents while he says “bunot” and “sagasa” all night long.

Is this Southern hospitality? Perhaps.

Filipino hospitality? You bet.

In fact, these two are just a few of the examples of those who have not a drop of Filipino blood in them, but act and live as Filipino. They may not have our flat nose or fully understand our languages but they define what a Filipino is and how a Filipino should be. They are living the Filipino life and enjoying it in their own special way and therefore that makes them in an odd kind of way – more Filipino than some of us.

So we shouldn’t question whether or not one is Filipino based on ethnic dimensions.

Who we really should question are those full-blooded Filipinos who ridiculously called into question that girl’s acceptance into Filgrad. Their “I-am-a-Filipino” ID card should be revoked. – PDM

See this article,"Define Filipino" in Philippine News. Click here

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

(Kulintang Reinstated) - newsstory

SAN FRANCISCO - “It is official,” said Kenneth Monteiro, current Acting Dean of College of Ethnic Studies. “The course was reinstated.”
ETHS 545, a class devoted to the Tradition Music of the Southern Philippines, which had been destined to be eliminated from the curriculum of San Francisco State University, is to be funded for the upcoming fall 2005 semester.
The news was sheer joy to many of its students, some of whom broke into joyous tears over the news.
“I am so glad to hear the good news that Master Kalanduyan has been reinstated for Fall 2005,” said Jasmine Real, one of Mr. Kalanduyan many students, “because it is very important for us to know what our history is and to continue our Pilipino traditions by maintaining it. Master K is helping us in doing just that.”
“I am excited that the class is being offered again this fall,” said Kristine Cura, another one of Mr. Kalanduyan’s students. I am glad that the ETHS department is giving the students at San Francisco State University the unique opportunity to experience the beauty of the art of kulintang.”
The class, ETHS 545, taught by a great artisan and world-renowned musician, Master Danongan Sibay Kalanduyan, was slated to be axed because of California’s still constrained education budget. But because of widespread indignation throughout the community toward the administration’s decision, the university relented on their initial position to discontinue the class.
“Based on the primary budget projections upon which the first round of decisions were made, ETHS 545 did not make the cut,” Mr. Monteiro told Philippine News. “But the College received a small augmentation for the fall because of projected increases in our enrollment targets. We therefore chose to add ETHS 545 as a priority and we are happy with that choice.”
Faculty members, such as Professor Danilo T. Begonia, who held an important role in bringing kulintang music to the university, were particularly pleased with the administration’s decision. “I am glad that the College of Ethnic Studies has decided to reinstate the kulintang course. It speaks volumes about the value they place on the cultural treasures taught by Master Kalanduyan.”
“It was also very gratifying to see how quickly the students and community stepped up to support the Save the Kulintang Course movement,” said Mr. Begonia, referring to the immediate response students created in order to rescue ETHS 545. “Hopefully in the future, the course becomes a permanent offering.”

A Hollow Victory

By Philip Dominguez Mercurio

Hopefully you’ve heard the news.

Kulintang music at San Francisco State is up and running for another semester this fall. Better sign you and your lola up, if you haven’t already.

Everyone involved seemed on the up and up. The university will retain a unique discipline taught by the one-and-only Master Kalanduyan and the students and the surrounding community will be on the verge of benefiting from another semester of kulintang pizzazz.

Only one problem though… Was this just a hollow victory?

Considering the class’ situation this fall, the answer would be ‘no’ but many concerns about this class have yet to be addressed — concerns which have lingered ever since the class’ very inception five semesters ago.

ETHS 545’s humble beginnings took shape when Mr. Kalanduyan was appointed SFSU’s distinguished artist in residence. Collaborating with Ating Tao, the SFSU-based drum ensemble, his presence generated a lot of exposure and attention for kulintang music.

“After his distinguished artist of residence was over,” said Professor Danilo Begonia, “We started to think ‘How could we keep him on campus because he was such a major asset to the community and to the university.’” What Mr. Begonia came up with was the creation of a Kulintang course, ETHS 545, which would be listed under Ethnic Studies.

But here’s the catch. When Mr. Begonia and the Acting Dean at the time, Tomás Almaguer went about doing this, steps were taken which strayed beyond normal university procedures. “When Professor Begonia wanted to offer that course,” said Professor Daniel Gonzales, “he should have had some communication with Asian American Studies (AAS) since it’s obviously a Filipino contact course. But there was never any consultation to my knowledge between AAS and Professor Begonia and Dean Almaguer. Basically, they did this to exclude AAS from the process of making the decision.”

Huh? Why would the previous administration want to leave out the AAS from a class that was clearly Asian-involved?

Well apparently, Mr. Almaguer held favoritism over some Ethnic courses. “Almaguer had a habit of taking resources away from different departments, shifting them over to the Ethnic Studies area and hiring whichever way he wanted,” said Mr. Gonzales. By doing so, Mr. Almaguer would have by-passed certain channels that would have gone against him, saving certain classes at his choosing from budget cuts. Such was the case for ETHS 545.

Now this arrangement would have been all honky-dory for all the classes under the Ethnics banner had it not been for the recent abdication of Mr. Almaguer. His abrupt departure caused a firestorm between the four departments with supporters of the former Dean accusing his critics of ousting him due to racially motivated agendas. Even worst, his swift departure spelled disaster for classes caught in the cross-fire such as Mr. Kalanduyan’s.

The correction to undo much of the prior damage caused by Mr. Almaguer would have eliminated many of funded courses under the imaginary Ethnic Department. Had it not been for the courage of a fearless few, Mr. Kalanduyan’s class would have been lost.

But no matter, even with his recent reinstatement, the damage to Mr. Kalanduyan had already been done. Because of the hasty way the class was introduced, the class has and will continue to remain in limbo, as a temporary class under the whims of the mythical Ethnics Department.

Mr. Kalanduyan would continue to receive more of the same: perhaps the lowest pay a lecturer could ever get under the curtain of a special contract. In fact, Mr. Gonzales said that had they in the AAS listed the course, “we would have asked that he be paid the appropriate level to his expertise, which would be much more, almost twice, what he is

actually getting paid. We couldn’t afford that... maybe only once a year, in a rotational cycle but at least he would have been paid a lecturer’s pay.”
And even worst, if ever the class is discontinued, only a very few would ever know about it.

University policy dictates that a class slated for elimination must undergo a full review by the faculty, the college, the Academic Senate, and even the president who would base the discontinuance of program according to such measures as its importance in addressing the university’s overall mission and the quality and excellence of the discipline.

ETHS 545 would surely qualify for many of those criteria but because this class never went through the proper channels on its inception, this class will never receive this luxury.

This therefore leaves ETHS 545: Traditional Music of the Southern Philippines at the mercy of the ebbs and flows of erratic monetary funding where only student intervention remains the only hope if the class does succumb to another budget axe.

It may be welcoming to hear of the class’ continuing run into the coming semester but it’s disheartening to see that nothing was done to address the class’ vulnerabilities or Mr. Kalanduyan’s own welfare. Such augmentations may insure the survival of the class in the near future but such quick fixes continue to do a great disservice to this master of all masters. – PDM

See this article,"A Hollow Victory" in Philippine News. Click here

Wednesday, April 27, 2005


By Philip Dominguez Mercurio

During class, one of Master Kalanduyan’s students, John Kenney, couldn’t comprehend why ETHS 545 was being cut.

He kept asking, “Does it really cost that much to keep Master Kalanduyan here at San Francisco State?”

Now, let’s be fair. Schools all across California are facing budget cuts so everyone within the school system is struggling. But if you think about it: Would his departure really have an impact upon the entire university budget whereby upon his exit, the school will be cushioned from the red ink?
Well, I went out and asked and according to those who are in the know… it’s pretty much a NO.

“Master Kalanduyan is here at the lowest possible rank,” said fellow Professor Danilo T. Begonia. “He’s a lecturer. He is a temporary from semester to semester. And you pay whatever ‘Mickey Mouse’ money that a lecturer gets. It’s almost embarrassing really. I’m almost ashamed to reveal what he probably gets, because he’s teaching only one course.

He gets the equivalent of only one-fifth of a full time faculty member… so he’s not getting paid a whole lot of money.

“It is an expensive course because it’s an activity course,” said Professor Daniel P. Gonzales, “but in my opinion, I agree, Professor Kalanduyan was being sorely underpaid. He was being paid by special contract about 1/3 less than a normal lecturer or an assistant professor at a lower level would get paid. And his value is much greater than that.”

So there it is. We have a prestigious master, highly regarded among his fellow Filipinos and musicians getting pennies to the dollar and whose value, according to Mr. Gonzales “is much greater than that.” And how much greater in value is Master Kalanduyan? Well, you wouldn’t believe.

If you were to assess him in terms of the recognition and stature he has as a music master, you would realize how revered he is by many educational institutions all over the United States.

“Other universities would sell their grandmothers to just to have a man of his stature on their faculty as permanent faculty, as tenured faculty, as assistant professor,” said Mr. Begonia.

Assessing him in terms of his relations to international issues, you would realize he is building bridges between religious boundaries. Being a Muslim man while teaching mostly Christian students, his works are alleviating the tensions that continue to build between these two religious worlds.

“He’s teaching Christian students, students from the United States,” said Mr. Begonia. “How do you put a price tag on something like that? Where do you see the kinds of efforts he has made of being a goodwill ambassador via music and dance, representing the Muslim traditions of the Philippines?”

In terms of revenue, his assessment would reveal that he generates a good deal of cash for the university via the performances he has. Whether for school functions or for college groups such as PACE, the university would usually get cut form the revenue made by charging what Mr. Begonia referred to as “operating and handling expenses.”

And his performances aren’t just local. Mr. Kalanduyan in fact draws large crowds whether playing for fellow Filipinos, around the Bay Area or even across the United States.

“He recently just finished a couple of places,” said Mr. Begonia, “Hawaii, Alaska, Cincinnati, New Mexico… and everywhere he goes, it reads, “Master Danongan Kalanduyan, faculty, San Francisco State University, College of Ethnic Studies.” Where can you buy that kind of propaganda, publicity that gives you the kind of positive advertising that comes with him? So if you think about it, in some ways, he’s already paid back what he’s already paid.”

“So let’s not talk about this non-sense,” said Mr. Begonia, “about, “Well this guy is costing us money. We can’t afford it.” Well, if you lose the guy, then you lose the money he represents in terms of earning potential. His presence here brings not only students but dignitaries, master artist, from the Philippines who would realize, “San Francisco State is legit.

San Francisco State is interested. San Francisco State is committed. We will go to that university because if they have a guy like Master Kalanduyan in that university, well obviously this university is culturally diverse and culturally sensitive.”

“We are basically riding on his coattails in other words, and we’re about to snip ourselves right of the coattails; take the scissors and cut us right off. We’re just going to blow him off, as if he were another piano teacher, another drum player and trumpet player.

“What he offers is very unique, very, very special, and it’s something the university will not be able to recover from.” - PDM

See this article,"Shortchanged" in Philippine News. Click here

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Fund Cut Silences ‘kulintang’

By Philip Dominguez Mercurio

SAN FRANCISCO — ETHS 545, a class that explores the art of kulintang (gong) music from the Southern Philippines, is getting the ax this coming semester.
This was a result of Calif. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s moves to borrow $2 billion in funds from California’s already strained education budget. Similar culturally rich classes are also being eliminated.

Seeing no other option, San Francisco State University’s Ethnic Studies Department decided to terminate the course, leaving many students disappointed and angry.
“I’m really disappointed,” said Maribelle Navarez. “I thought this class was an opportunity for a lot Filipino American students who otherwise would not be exposed to certain cultural things to really explore subjects that you don’t get from family or from home,” she said.

Jocelyne Ampon, one of ETHS 545 teacher’s assistants, expressed a similar view. “I’m upset because now the class is finally becoming popular among students who aren’t Filipino, in Ethnic Studies or in the Music department.” she said. “These students are taking the class because they see there is something else other than classical musical taught here.”

ETHS 545 is taught by Master Danongan Sibay Kalanduyan, expert and scholar on the Maguindanao style of tribal kulintang music. He was born in the Mindanao province of Cotabato and grew up in an environment of traditional Mindanao music.

A Rockefeller grant in 1976 brought him to the U.S and he has been teaching kulintang music in universities since.

“I feel that transmitting the knowledge I possess is important for Filipino Americans everywhere, not only to preserve what may be the only authentic Filipino musical form, but also to encourage Filipino Americans to maintain contact with their cultural heritage,” he said in a published interview.
He further explained, “It is a musical tradition we’ve had in the Philippines before we were ever conquered by the Spaniards.

It’s a pre-colonial, pre-Islamic tradition of the Filipinos that most Filipinos nowadays are not familiar with. So basically, the class is here to educate our fellow Filipinos since this was their own heritage before any foreigner came to our country.”

Such was the case for Filipinos like Ampon, who learned a good deal about her own heritage from Kalanduyan’s course.

“The class is really important to me because I wanted something more involved in our music and culture. And when I found out about this class, I was like, Wow. That’s perfect, because I always wanted to learn how to play and this was a perfect chance,” she said.

SFSU has been offering the course for five semesters. About 25 students are enrolled in the class.

“Living in the United States for 12 years,” said Kristine Cura, one of Kalanduyan’s students, “I grew up exposed mostly to western or more specifically, American culture. Now that I am an adult, I yearned to learn more about Philippine culture and taking kulintang class has given me the opportunity to do so.”

Unfortunately, the series of budget cuts in education has led to the drying up of funding for smaller and highly specialized courses.

The SFSU said budget cuts are a reality the school faces every day.

“At this point, all I could say is that each of our chairs and directors are faced with difficult decisions based on limited budgets. Long-term, of course we need to restore full funding to public education,” said Ken Monteiro, Acting Dean of the College of Ethnic Studies.

“When Schwarzenegger said that fees were going to go up and education funding had to be temporary reduced, we knew we were really going to get hurt,” said Daniel Phil Gonzales, a Professor of Asian American Studies. “I mean, we’re still in the middle of budget cuts now. You’ve been seeing all the discontinuous wiping out of whole departments.”

Ultimately, Schwarzenegger restored part of the $2 billion budget cuts, but the amount did not go to Kalanduyan’s class.

Kalanduyan said he would like to continue teaching the class at San Francisco State “if the university would like me to continue.”

“What I’ll miss of course is seeing the faces of students who are very curious and interested in knowing more about the arts and culture of the Filipinos, specifically the people of Mindanao who keep and continue to strongly practice these arts.

What’s great is realizing these students are not only interested in just learning the music but also understanding the history of the music, the dance and how they can learn it and pass it on to younger Filipinos and other students interested in learning about Philippine culture heritage,” he said wistfully.

“There’s no other place to learn this but from Master Kalanduyan,” said Ava Tong, a long-time apprentice of the course. - PDM

See this article,"Fund Cut Silences ‘kulintang’" in Philippine News. Click here

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Filipino Pope, Anyone

By Philip Dominguez Mercurio

IT’S a shame that the Philippines does not have
a front-runner contender for the papacy.

Looking at the list of potential candidates in many of the national papers, you’re not going to find a Filipino candidate in any of them.

Brazil and Mexico are the biggest Catholic nations in the world, each of them have at least one person in contention: Cardinals Claudio Hummes and Morborto Rivera Carrera from each country respectively.

America may be the fourth largest Catholic nation but they have no contenders for the papacy thanks to their recent scandals roiling over from years of sexual abuses.

Italy, the fifth largest Catholic nation has reduced influence in the College of Cardinals. Still, she has an impressive home field advantage with a plethora of contenders with every city-state along the Mediterranean to choose from.
Then there is third largest Catholic nation in the world: the Philippines.

Being one of the powerhouses of Catholicism and the biggest in the Asian block, it would be nice to see one of our own brown brothers go for the seat.

Now there is an Asian contender for the papacy but unfortunately it’s not from the Philippines but from India: Cardinal Ivan Dias.

Perhaps saying this would belittle other Christians and Muslims in the Philippines, but if one would crank out the numbers, when it all comes down to it, in terms of Catholicism, we are definitely one of its superpowers.
Unfortunately, we have nothing to show for it.

Being one of the powerhouses of Catholicism isn’t the only reason why the Philippines should place a cardinal in legions of others running for the papacy. The Filipino people are also in desperate need of a hero.

As of now, the most lasting figure from the Philippines at least on the world stage remains to be a woman with too many heels.

And with the ongoing political wrangling and government’s continued indifference to the needs of the masses, any faith the people have in their political leaders or the institutions they lead had long dried up.

Filipinos need someone like John Paul II had been to Poland in our own midst; someone who could make an impressionable inspiration for our people on the world stage for all to see.

In Poland, John Paul II was considered their savior. Upon becoming the pope, he galvanized his own people on his first visit to his homeland with millions of Poles ignoring the government’s restrictions, leaving their normal lives to greet him.

With his one visit, he brought back religion and God, steps that later lead to the unraveling of events that ultimately culminated with the downfall of Communism 10 years later.

An editor of a Polish Catholic weekly, Rev. Adam Boniecki, said to The New York Times, “This was a little country. We had the feeling that we practically didn’t exist, that we had been forgotten, and the pope told us who we are and that we were remembered. He was the presence who created the Polish identity.”

For a country generally ignored by the outside world except for being mentioned occasionally as an exporter of maids to Hong Kong or the Middle East, entertainment workers to Japan or blurted out by President George W. Bush as areas infested with terrorist cells, having a Filipino pope to create our own Filipino identity would be a God send.

Such a pope will raise our people up, make them feel good about whom they are and the country they represent.

There is no need for Filipinos to sly away and not represent themselves on the world stage when our country is very embroiled in Church theology where its pull even influences many of our domestic policies: issues such as family planning and population control.

John Paul II perhaps most enduring legacy upon the history of the world was his participation in the defeat of Communism that shielded many nations from the light of God.

His passing presents the close of that era but a new battle existing in the majority of Catholic nations endures: life-wrecking poverty that threatens the very quality of life the church is trying to protect.

Its defeat should be the mission of the new pope.

Filipinos therefore must there in the frontlines, ready to do battle. -PDM

See this article,"Filipino Pope, Anyone" in Philippine News. Click here

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Annex Sabah

AS OF NOW, war perhaps is a long shot but not off the table yet.

I’m not referring to the long and arduous scuffle between some rebellions ruffians and the Philippine military in the Sulu Sea but brewing tension just a few miles due south of there between our closest Malayan neighbors: Indonesia and Malaysia.

In Jakarta, apparently, this is big news. According to the Jakarta Post, Jakarta insists that Malaysia has breached their territory invading one of their islands along the eastern coast of Kalimantan (Borneo).

The island in question, Sebatik, straddles the border between the Indonesian province of East Kalimantan and Malaysian Sabah. Perhaps this little island would have no value if it weren’t for the region just east of the island known as the Ambalat, which has been found to hold vast quantities of oil.

With claims by the Indonesian government that Malaysians have sent aircraft and warships into the area, Jakarta has countered with their own fleet of warships including four F-16 fighter jets for the protection of their own national sovereignty. At first glance, it may not be apparent how the Philippines is involved in this regional conflict until one realizes the perch the Malaysian government is using to retrieve that island: Sabah.

Many of you should remember Sabah. Sabah formerly known as British North Borneo, hugs the northeastern corner of Kalimantan, has long been disputed by the Philippines as their own territory. During the 1600’s, this territory was given as a token of gratitude to the Sultan of Sulu by the Sultan of Brunei in exchange for the former’s help during a civil war dispute by the latter.

According to historical records, two hundred years later, the Sultan of Sulu leased Sabah to an Austrian, Gustavus Overbeck and later to the British North Borneo Company for 5000 Malaysian dollars and armaments against the Spanish. So accordingly, the territory could not be transferred to another sovereignty without the express consent of the Sultan himself.

With the dawn of the 20th century, the British seemingly ignored pleas by Americans first and Filipino delegates later and consolidated Sabah with neighboring Sarawak and the peninsular Malaya to form Malaysia.

This latest controversy in the Sulawesi Sea is reviving old scars from that formation of the Malayan Federation 40 years ago which was opposed by both the Philippines and Indonesia. During that time, the Philippines broke off relations with Malaysia, insisting that Sabah was legally theirs while Indonesia saw Malaysia’s consolidation as Britain’s puppet state that threatened the very fabric of their independence.

So infuriated was Sukarno and his administration at their declaration that Indonesia went a step further, infiltrating parts of Sarawak and Sabah in 1963. Battles along the northern Borneo border and the Malayan Peninsula increased between Indonesian troops and Malaysians who were backed by regiments of British, Australian, Singaporean and even New Zealander soldiers.

Fighting only ceased with the coup d’etat of President Sukarno in 1965.

Today, even before the conflict over the island of Sebatik, relations were already heighten between Malaysia and its two neighbors thanks to Malaysia’s first crackdown on illegal foreign workers since 2002.

Malaysia is continually pressuring both nations to remove thousands of Filipinos and close to half a million Indonesians who have remained there illegally after the so-called amnesty period had ended.

As reported by Philstar, the crackdown, involving 300,000 police, immigration officials and volunteers, have sent offenders fleeing and leveled hundreds of captured detainees fines, jail time and even a caning. So with any further agitations, such as the one occurring in Eastern Kalimantan, you could be sure such acts won’t be helping mend any of the broken fences.

Now you would think Malaysians would have learned from their own history about what happens after claiming land about their neighborhood. Being the smaller country of the three, Malaysia should be treading delicately between their bigger brothers, especially Indonesia who dwarfs them by population alone. Of course, by upping the crackdowns on foreign illegal workers and awarding contracts of blocks to oil-gas rich water along questionable border areas, they apparently don’t seem to mind taking the whole cake and eating it too.

And if this isn’t just more proof of the saying, “History repeats itself,” Indonesia’s moody public has reacted to Malaysia’s actions accordingly: burning the Malaysian flag and advocating calls to war. In fact, thousands of youths from Sumatra to Sulawesi have joined youth organizations ready to do battle, hoping to “crush Malaysia,” a cry that was echoed by President Sukarno only 40 years ago. Of course years ago, that kind of rhetoric lead straight to intermittent war known by locals as the “Konfrontasi.”

Who knows what would happen this time.
With the set up as it is, Ate Glo couldn’t have been handed a better situation to take advantage of; a situation that her father was not fortunate enough to receive during his reign: a reason for the complete annexation of Sabah. Confer with Indonesian diplomats over our score with Malaysia about the region in question.

Tell them Malaysia may win the dispute over the Ambalat but if they lose the Sabah dispute, not only will they lose a chunk of North Borneo but also the claim to Sebatik and the oil that lies nearby. As of now, Malaysia is willing to go to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) over the Ambalat region, but I’m sure they wouldn’t want to bring up the Sabah dispute again there either.

The dispute has documentation in 1939, prior to the formation of the federation that undoubtedly gives ownership of Sabah to the late Dayang Dayang Piandao and his heirs. Let the Indonesians place added pressure on Malaysia on the Sabah region, insisting that if the Malaysians continue to pursue the Ambalat region, Indonesia would back the Philippines’ claim over Sabah to the ICJ.

Ate Glo should seal the deal by making consolidations with the Indonesians that by us retaining Sabah, we would not interfere with Indonesia’s sovereignty over the island of Sebatik.

If this all falls through, Ate Glo would not only be seen as a regional peace-broker but a heroine within her own borders in this win-win situation for both nations. Indonesia would peacefully retain an island they have always considered theirs and lose the nuisance of a smaller rival near their richer provinces in East Kalimantan. The Philippines would finally retain jurisdiction over Sabah, a region rich with a growing eco-tourism, the highest peak in Southeast Asia, Kinabalu, and perhaps a chance to inaugurate our first national monkey: the orangutan.

So move over Philippine tarsier. There maybe a new monkey in town. - PDM

See this article,"Annex Sabah" in Philippine News. Click here.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

The First Lumpia

By Philip Dominguez Mercurio

FAIRYTALES and folklore have been commonplace throughout the world and there have been quite a few in America that have been imported from the relics of the ancient world and the northern regions of Europe.

Even The Philippines has their own mythologies about the origins of the world, man, etc., but I’ve been particularly interested on where things, especially things unique to the Philippines, came from.

The year is 2020. We approached the toll plaza passing an old sign that has been mired from years of punishment by year after year of changes. The latest one simply read: Toll $20.

As we approached the incline, I looked over at the corroding “off ramp”, the result of bickering politicians who also were never able to agree on any single design whatsoever.

The supposedly “new” eastern span turned into something akin to the abandoned approaches along the Florida Keys, relics of a gone by era.
Snarling our way towards the island, my son, bored out of his mind, started staring at the abandon approach. At this time, I found the perfect opportunity to tell him a story.

“Son, I’d like to tell you a story about the first lumpia.”
My son looked back at me, a little stunned but somewhat intrigued.

“Yeah. You’d like it. It’s the best. Number one.

How the first lumpia came to be…

It all started long ago, in a far, far away archipelago.

Here, among the thousands and thousands of islands warped in the lush vegetation and filled with birds and monkeys of all kind, was kingdom of unimaginable proportion. It was a place where cultures collided, interacted and formed a labyrinth of intricate ideas and belief, which soon laid the foundation for their own enlightened and vibrant culture.

Here lived a princess of unimaginable beauty. Her name was Princess Jin that translated meant, “Golden Princess.” She was indeed the most beautiful of the entire kingdom and was blessed with an ilong most Filipinas could only dream of.

One day, the dear princess was craving for some egg rolls from a far away land. Her craving lead to a call that was made throughout the kingdom for the one who was willing enough to risk life and limb in search of this crispy roll. A week later thousands gathered in the grand auditorium to witness what figures would appear in front of the court for the princess’ request.

But no one showed. For hours, the people were gripped in silence that not a hint of courage remained in this archipelago kingdom.

Then, in the distance, trumpets blared. With dust gathering up on the road came a man wearing a bamboo hat and stateside clothing who rode on a carabao with a large and fragranced rosary wrapped around its bow. His name was Philip but many knew him by his nickname “Boy Carabao” for he always traveled atop his carabao wherever he may go.

Whence he reached the grounds of the auditorium, he got off his carabao and entered the court wearing his slippers and faced the bewildered princess.
Shouting for all to hear, he said to her, “I will take up the challenge to find this precious roll your majesty.

I will swim through the largest ocean, walk through the tangiest jungle, climb the highest hill… just for the chance to win your heart.”

With that said, an enthusiastic cry filled the grand auditorium, with people shouting their praise.

The next day thousands upon thousands lined the streets to wish the fair boy on the carabao farewell and good travels. They lined his path with coconut leaves, handed him fruits of all kind from furry rambutans to fist-sized guavas and gave him boxes of instant noodles so he may remain safe and prosperous. Then he entered the dark and ominous jungle, hopefully to return.

For three months, Boy Carabao swam through the largest ocean, walked through the tangiest jungle, and climbed the highest hill. He fought off fire-breathing komodo dragons and an army of hounding orangutans and battled with sneaky pirates and pick-pocketers of all kind but nothing would deter him.

He was indeed resolute; his goal fully set in his mind. At the end of the three month long journey, he reached the gates at dusk. Snowdrifts piled high along its red locks, the wind creating a chilling howl as it slithered along the imposing wall, which stretched for miles in each direction.

At the gate’s entrance, there was only silence, a desolate place with only a solitary gong hanging on the outside. His blistered hands reached for note attached to the hanging gong, which read: Please ring for assistance. Thank you.
With that, he took the baton that was chained to the gong (apparently, enough people have taken the baton either by accident or intentionally that it was necessary to chain it as well) and rung the golden gong.

The vibration was deep, creating low bass sound that could be felt under his skin.

Suddenly, he felt something pinching his throat. The Boy Carabao realized he was surrounded by five fighting monks. All were covered in black with even their faces concealed except only for a small shiver of skin that revealed their small eyes. They were deliciously dangerous, prepared and in no mood to talk.
“Who dares enter the kingdom of Peking,” said one of them.

“Ay, my goodness. I have come to seek out the secrets of the egg roll,” pleaded Boy Carabao, his voice trembling at the point of their swords. “Please don’t kill me.”
The one who spoke soon consulted with another monk in whispers, while the other three held their ground. After a brief conversation, the spokesman replied, “You may enter the city as you wish… but no fishy business.”

Boy Carabao let out a sigh of relief as three of the monks left, flying in mid-air, hopping over the fortified walls and out of sight. The other two remained guarding Boy Carabao from what was about to happen.

As soon as they departed, the giant gates opened. Light shimmered out of the crevasse, forming an inviting ray, which contrasted with the outside gloom.
As Philip and his carabao entered through the opening gates, they were immediately transported into a whole new world. Lining the streets were store upon store with shopkeepers selling a variety of things from ladies shoes and fine china to fireworks and pirated VCDs.

Avenues were filled with people biking, strings filled with laundry crisscrossed the sky as people of all kinds hustled and bustled below carrying all kinds of things either with poles on their shoulders on in handheld wagons. It indeed was a whole new world.

The two monks escorted Boy Carabao through side streets passing temple after temple towards the palace. Entering through another set of heavy gates, they set foot upon a stone courtyard, which was surrounded by the rest of the palace grounds. The buildings before them shimmered in a red glow, which was emitted throughout the premises.

The monks that had escorted them all the way here soon vanished, perhaps themselves flying off to levitate in another part of the city.

As both of them awkwardly waited alone in the mist of the courtyard, a woman appeared at the top of the staircase of the largest of the palace’s towers. Wearing a silk gown, she glided out with an ambiance of a floating swan with two chopsticks stuck out through the bob in her hair. She stopped a mere few feet from the wary traveler.

“So it is you that seeks out the secrets of the magical roll,” said Agnes Lau, Queen of Peking.

“Yes, your majesty. It is I who has come to seek out the precious roll,” Boy Carabao humbly said, getting off his trusted carabao and kneeling in front of her.

“Then follow me.”

She lead him pass the stone courtyard, the lush gardens, the guard room where three officers were practicing their off-key karaoke and up some stone staircases towards one of the larger towers.

Only until they reached one of the larger galleries, that were dimly lighted by the silk lanterns that surrounded the walls, did they stop.
“Wait here,” said the queen.

Boy Carabao stopped awkwardly almost losing one of his slippers in the process. While he waited, Queen Lau pulled out a golden chest from a white cabinet. She stood over it first and then opened it, revealing a golden glow, which soon reflected off her face.

“Inside this magical chest is the all-important ingredients used to make the egg roll,” Queen Lau said.

Boy Carabao looked on with earnest. Inside the golden chest, lay all kinds of ingredients from water chestnuts, crisp celery to bean sprouts and jars of sesame oil and of course stacks of egg roll wrappers. She removed a few of them and handed them to Boy Carabao. He felt the cold, moist nature of each of these on his hands, as if these ingredients had been refrigerated. Soon afterwards, the queen taught him the art of making the cherished egg roll.

After a week at the palace, he left this gated city carrying fresh bags of wrapper and chestnuts in brightly, pink ”Thank You” plastic bags that were tied to his carabao. He said farewell to the people selling cheap Justin Timberlake CDs and fake Louis Vuitton bags and headed off into the distance.

On his way back though, he and his carabao were trotting along the shore, when they heard a strange sound. The fish started bobbing along the shoreline as the water from underneath them receded. Philip and his carabao stalled, startled by the ocean sudden reclusive nature. But seconds later, the ocean rose up higher than the coconut trees and began advancing upon the shoreline.

Immediately, Philip and his carabao retreated toward the jungle but it was too late. The carabao let out a low groan as its legs were kicked out from underneath it and Philip began being swept up by the water. Soon they were sucked up into the large wave, rising many feet before being thrown back to the jungle floor below. Boy Carabao lost his grip on his carabao and soon was all alone. When he came to, he realized he was drifting along with thousands of remains of the jungle he once passed. Gasping for air, he lunged for the nearest driftwood he could find and held on tight until finally the water receded around where he floated.

Soon he was standing among the mist of utter destruction. Devastated, he scrapped up the remaining egg roll wrappers that were attached to his belt and sat along the beach. His carabao, the magical bean sprouts were all gone… swept out into the big blue ocean.

As he sat on one of the fallen tree trunks thinking, he noticed a large ship in distance, its enormous sails gyrating to the push of the western winds. As the day wore on, it drew closer to Boy Carabao until the enormous Manila galleon finally ran aground along the beach, close by to where he sat. Boy Carabao read the sign along its bow its enormous letters reading “De Flores.”

Soon, a man appeared at the top of a deceasing staircase. Wearing brand-named sunglasses and a Hawaiian T-shirt, this captain who seemed in tip-top shape for a sailor stepped off the boat along with his talking chihuahua, aptly named Quiero.

“Hola, amigo,” Commander Martin de las Flores said. “What’s happenen’.” The commander set off in front of the exhausted Boy Carabao, extending his heavy hand in a sign of respect.

“Nothing much, Martin,” Boy Carabao said, shrugging while looking across the vast ocean. “Just lost everything… my ride, my food, my mission… to a manic wave. But other than that… nothing much.”

“Are you hungry?” said Martin, his mind obviously on food. “Wanna burrito, fajita or of these stylin’ new tacos?” He held one in his hand. “Soft or hard shell. We got them in the back.”

Philip was in no mood.

Martin still looked puzzled. “Well, if you need a ride, we’re headed for a stop over in Tokyo before heading back to México.”

“No. That’s ok Martin. I still need to complete my mission. Maybe next time.”

“Mission?” Martin said surprised. “What mission?”

“Ah… I needed to find the secrets of the egg roll and bring one back to the princess of the kingdom of Yogyakarta. Unfortunately, the sudden surge of ocean washed away much of those treasured secrets, leaving only these few wrapper rolls.”

Martin looked over to the portion of ocean which Boy Carabao’s eyes seemed focus on, while his dog was wailing beside him, possibly anxious to go on and continue their journey. Martin then broke the awkward silence, saying, “Well, We must be on our way. They’re many weeks ahead of us to Acapulco.”

Martin patted Boy Carabao on the shoulders and retreated back to the galleon, following his yapping dog. As they were about to embark Boy Carabao thought of something.

“Wait… hold up,” he shouted at Martin and his crew.
“What. What is it?”

“You still have the ingredients for those tacos and burritos?”
Boy Carabao soon went over the inventory of supplies in Commander Martin de las Flores hull, picking out the various things he needed that would likely make an impressive roll.

The fresh onions and garlic, cabbage and ground beef reminded him of some of the stuff he picked out from the golden chest but he tried out new ingredients like green beans, which intrigued him.

Borrowing a small boat from Martin, he fished for shrimp in the surrounding tropical waters for days, cut them into pieces at night. Using the remaining magical wrappers he had, he cut out new rolls that were thinner than those used in the egg rolls in Peking. He soon called his roll a lumpia.

When he was ready, he lunged the two bags on his back and headed off, this time with the use of only his slippers back to the kingdom down under. Returning to whence he came, thousands again lined the streets to greet the boy of all carabaos. Though many were surprised by the lack of his own carabao below his waist, they reveled in the joy that he had returned with the magical egg roll in hand.

Soon Boy Carabao returned to the court where the princess and her family were waiting. They presented him with a large deep fryer they borrowed from the McDonald’s next door. Boy Carabao took one of the rolls and dipped it into the boiling hot oil.

A sharp sizzle was heard accompanied by a large gasp by the crowd. The oil soon transformed the roll from pale white to a darker, golden crisp. Boy Carabao removed one from the oil and offered it to the young princess.

She took a bite. Crispy on the outside but warm and soothing on the inside. As she chewed, the guards waited impatiently by her side, ready to kill Boy Carabao if he did not please the princess.

“It doesn’t taste like the egg roll I remembered,” she said.
Boy Carabao started to sweat, knowing full well the guards were ready to whist him away.

“But I like it. This is wonderful,” she said.

The crowd roared into a standing ovation as they picked Boy Carabao up and shuffled him high above their heads, celebrating him as their living hero. That day, Boy Carabao won the hearts of a whole kingdom that soon began chomping on the crunchy lumpias and the heart of a princess and both of them lived happily ever after. Up to this day, people throughout the archipelagos of
Indonesia and the Philippines enjoyed the scrumptious lumpia thanks to the adventures of Boy Carabao.

“So what do you think?” I asked my son, who continued to look out in the distance at the various break lights that illuminated our path.
“They had karaoke long ago?” he asked.

Huh? That wasn’t exactly the type of insightful question I expected but what can I say. I guess this just means another far-fetched adventurous tale about Boy Carabao in his search for the first karaoke machine.- PDM

See this article,"The First Lumpia I" and,"The First Lumpia II" in Philippine News. Click here

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Lost in a Shun

By Philip Dominguez Mercurio

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Her arrival came to me through an email invitation from the Philippine Consulate General.

The email read: “The Bay Area Filipino American Community and The Philippine Consulate General of San Francisco celebrate the first visit to the United States of Her Excellency Gloria Macapagal Arroyo in her new mandate as President of the Republic of the Philippines” at the Hyatt Regency, in Burlingame.

Price tag: $30. Apparently, her first tour of duty was to receive her doctorate at the University of San Francisco (USF) then swing down to Burlingame the next day to be applauded into her second term.

At the time, I wasn’t particularly concerned about her visit. I knew by late October the League of Filipino Students from San Francisco State University was planning to rally at USF citing Glo’s record of human rights violations, but on the same day of the doctorate, I would be unavailable, receiving the Best Youth Voice Special Achievement Award from the New California Media in Sacramento.

When I found out later about the supposed barring of three professors from San Francisco State (one of them ironically receiving a Special Achievement Award for Valley Reporting herself) and their students from Her Excellency’s presence, I was surprised.

Very surprised. I mean, what a way for Ate Glo to recognize some of the most revered individuals within the Filipino American community in such an honorable way. Shunning them through other channels, silently and indirectly, just makes me wonder what kind of message she was trying to send the younger Filipino American generation who adore these professors and accompanying students for their passion and charisma.

Exactly what could these professors possibly have done that could make Ate Glo and her entourage fearful of their presence within their mist? Were they that known for their “troublesome” presence here in the San Francisco Bay Area that they’ve even been making waves thousands of miles away? For such humbled beings, I’m sure these professors would be surprised by the complement.

It was a pity I was unavailable to attend either of Ate Glo’s public… I mean, restricted appearances. The fact I was invited to one of them even though I was closely associated with a few of the barred professors, that being Daniel Begonia, being one of his former students would have placed me on the wonderful tight-rope of admission.

Would I have come in as a disruptor of the peace? Or a docile, go-with-the-flow, I-want-to-take-a-picture-with-the-president parishioner? Oh no no no.

I would have wanted to ask one question and one question only. And it would have had nothing to do with her honorary degree, her new mandate or something about human rights.

In fact, I have another pressing issue in mind.

A few weeks ago, The Wall Street Journal published a piece on the front page entitled “In Vast Archipelago Unlikely Force Gains Grip: Democracy.” In it, the story revealed the dramatic turn around about our neighbor to the south, Indonesia, in embracing the ideals of democracy.

The process of decentralization which has been gradually transferring power to the masses from a smaller elite group has caused bouts of corruption but also in an ironic twist spawned the very democracy which now is battling that same corruption.

According to Timothy Mapes, citizens have turned to their votes sweeping away corrupt officials and electing new ones who better address their needs. In fact, so widespread has democracy gripped the country that defeats of sitting officials have been felt all the way up to presidency, where incumbent Megawati was voted out by General Yudhoyono, a man whom the U.S. Ambassador to Jakarta, Ralph Boyce, sees as the one who “could restore Indonesia to its rightful place as the leader in the region.”

What interesting to note is that Indonesia has many of the same problems facing the Philippines: growing unemployment, declining foreign investment and separatist insurgencies in outlying parts of the nation.

But in terms of dealing with those problems, Indonesia seems to be doing a much better job. In terms of elections, the Philippines suffered elections plagued by strings of bombings, cries of fraud and continued speculations of anarchy and coups at ever turn.

Indonesia though seemed undeterred by bombings of their own and held what has been labeled “the world’s largest and most complex one-day election ever.” In fact, so successful was their election, it was reported that 80 percent of their 155 million registered voters participated in their election helped out by two of Indonesia’s largest Islamic organizations who helped out with 100,000 election monitors. Even the United States could only pull off a voter participation percentage of 50 percent.

With this turn of events, it’s no wonder that Asia Foundation’s Tim Meisburger was happy to tell The Wall Street Journal that, “Indonesia is today the most democratic country in Asia, including Japan.”

This shouldn’t be a surprise to Indonesia which the New York Times labeled as a country with “one of the worst-performing economies in the vibrant Asian region, rampant corruption and a homegrown terror network,” as much as to the Philippines.

For the Philippines, our true shining point was being the only true democracy in the Southeast Asian region. With the direction of the country purring along while all our neighbors are roaring, becoming the next tigers in the region, our democracy was our signature in a rift of growing poverty, overpopulation and corruption.

Now, for a country such as Indonesia which only a mere seven years ago spiraled through a dramatic upheaval filled with riots and rapes leading to the downfall of authoritarian regime of President Suharto showing signs of an enlightened democratic process reveals a complete failure in the way things are done in the Philippines.

The Philippines had two chances for turnaround democracy via two bloodless, nonviolent transitions into new administrations but it’s disheartening to note that there was nothing accomplished after those triumphant victories by the people.

Now finally, with another six years on the contract for Ate Glo, the Philippines finally loses that one last cent of respect we’ve had in the global community of being the leader of democracy in the region to Indonesia.

So with that in mind, I would like to ask Ate Glo my question: How the Philippines could lose their democratic edge on her watch to a country with a worst human-rights record and a higher corruption ranking?

It seems unfathomable but unfortunately a coming reality which could be summarized simply by a remark from Mr. Boyce who said, “It’s extremely impressive that this emerging democracy has been able to develop an Indonesian-style election system that to date has worked in free and fair and extremely peaceful fashion.”

When will we get our free, fair and extremely peaceful election Mrs. President, one that would again make us the undisputed and true leader of democracy in the region? Would I get a direct, well-reasoned answer? Or some kind of run-around or even worst the “I’m sorry, I didn’t hear the first part of the question” Rummy-style answer?

For now we may never know.

Maybe when she returns to receive her honorary degree from San Francisco State.
That will be the day. - PDM

See this article,"Lost in a Shun" in Philippine News. Click here.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Boxed In

By Philip Dominguez Mercurio

ANOTHER presidential season has come and gone, and hopefully everyone who could have voted in their own special way, did this November.

Delegates of all forms sprang into action en masse, enticing “newbies” to fill out those all too wonderful voter registration forms.

Now, I could never understand these registration forms.

They seem straight forward. Just fill out your full name, your address or describe where you live if you don‘t have a roof over your head, Social Security number and California ID. Then answer a couple of residency questions and you are all set.

Then there’s that optional ethnicity question, placed there for the purposes of figuring out later which ethnicities voted more one way or the other on a particular candidate, party or issue.

Two months ago, I happened to be filling out registration forms for my girlfriend and her mother, who both happen to be Indonesian. Approaching the optional ethnicity question would have been a snap had it not been for the way the ethnic boxes were strewn. There was an Asian box which would have easily classified me and her, a Pacific Islander box and another box for … Filipinos.

Apparently, by California standards, what was once the singular API (Asian Pacific Islander) community has split into three classifications.

Now, I just could never understand why Filipinos have become the lonely one out of this. I guess if you are the very nationalistic type, perhaps you’d be inclined to be joyous about the end result of all this and say “Hey, We’re not Asian. We’re not Pacific Islander… We’re Filipino!”

Well, hooray. We can now identify ourselves from the pack, and Filipinos who have always been confused on either checking the Asian box or the Pacific Islander box could now have one sure, definite bet. No more confusion. But I’d like to know what criteria were used to exclude Filipinos from the relative designation of Asian.

Geographically-speaking, Filipinos should be considered Asian since the Philippines is considered part of the continent known as Asia. At times our country appears in some geography books as a separate insert with the English-speaking countries of Australia and New Zealand, but generally speaking, the Philippines along with countries along the Malay peninsula and archipelago like Brunei and East Timor are collectively known as Southeast Asia.

There are some people though, Asians in particular, who argue that because we are so far off the coast, hanging completely off the South China Sea, we’re not part of the continent of Asia.

In fact, the name, Philippine “Islands” already affirms that we are “islands” in the Pacific, and therefore we should be considered part of the Pacific Islands like Palau and Guam directly to our west.

They totally have the wrong idea though because we are not the only islands in the Far East. Japan, China Taipei and the thousands of islands of Indonesia should also be reclassified as Pacific Islands since they are also islands in the Pacific.

Not only that, but the Philippines is relatively close to the southern tip of Taiwan by tens of miles and it’s just a motorboat ride away from the northern islands of Sulawesi. In fact, those from Sulawesi and islands further south are even further away from the Asian mainland than Manila itself. But apparently, those from Sulawesi would be easily classified as Asian.

In terms of ethnicity, the classification of Filipinos has been hotly contested even before the recognized independence of the Philippines in 1946. Records show that a debate was raging about where Filipinos lie along the ethnic spectrum all the way back to the infancy of the Filipino American community in the early-mid 20th century.

The importance of the Filipino classification during this time was in reference to the prevailing anti-miscegenation laws that were in place to restrict non-white races from marrying into the white majority.

As researched by Henry Empeno, at the turn of the century, laws in many states were already in place prohibiting the issuance of marriage licenses for interracial unions between whites and those who were either classified as “Negroes and Mongolians.” Though the white ethological definition of Mongoloid was clearly applied to the Chinese and then the Japanese who followed them, it was not clearly defined for the third Asian immigrant group: the Filipinos.

By anthropological definitions, Filipinos were not classified as Mongolians but Malayans and therefore were not specified within the certain civil codes at the time. Different interpretation of what Malayans were in respect to Mongolians caused considerable confusion in the courts, especially during the decade before 1931.

In the state of California alone, there was a decade or so of conflicting cases where Filipinos were either issued or denied marriage licenses based solely on how the courts defined the racial classification of Filipinos.

In 1921, the Los Angeles County Assistant General, Edward T. Bishop, ruled that Filipinos/Malayans were not classified as Mongolians and some other court cases that followed concluded with similar decisions. But within that same span of time, the Los Angeles State Superior Court and the State Attorney General Office gave decisions that denied Filipinos’ marriage licenses, asserts that Filipinos were Mongolian.

It wasn’t until January 1933, in the case of Rolden v Los Angeles County the California Court of Appeals came to a final decision, concluding that Filipinos were Malayans, not Mongolians and therefore not prohibited from marrying whites. Two months later, legislation was passed swiftly through the California assembly adding Malayans to the list of ineligible races allowed to marry those of the white race.

Today, though those anti-miscegenation laws have been discarded by 1948, the race known as Malayan or its more politically correct term, Malay is still being used.

Those considered Malay do not only encompass the Philippines but also extend below through the islands of Indonesia, East Timor, the Sultanate of Brunei, city-state of Singapore, Malaysia and all the way to the recently troubled provinces of Narathiwat, Yala and Pattani in southern Thailand.

Now here lies the peculiarity that could be just as confusing as the classification of Filipinos 70 years earlier… are the Malays from those countries considered Asian or Filipino by the California 2004 election form?
Geographically, Asian would be the prime choice.

But ethnically, there definitely could be some debate. Just remember, by California’s classifications, because Filipinos are Malays, the Malays from those countries should also be considered Filipino since Filipinos are now classified as their own stand-out race apart from the general “Asian” context.

If we could consider Filipino as representative of the “brown” race so to speak, other “brown” races, even if they are not from the Philippines, should fall under that category as well. Geography be damned!

Now, if the box was not based on any geographic or ethnic considerations, then what could possibly be the reason behind the segregated box? Perhaps the Spanish and American colonization of the Philippines has so impacted the country’s cultural society to the point where Filipinos literally have been ripped from the contextual definition of “Asian” where neither its geographic or ethnic relations to its neighbors hold anymore relevance.

Or perhaps being the only country subjected to 333 years under the cross then another 50 some years under the stars and stripes, has caused the over 7,000 or so islands to hang in limbo, lost somewhere in the middle of the Pacific, even more isolated than the Hawaiian islands which made it pertinent that it and its people had to be classified alone – on their own – no matter what.

Hmmm. But perhaps the very reason Filipinos have been separated could be easily explained by just reading the title of Emil Guillermo’s last column in AsianWeek: “Asians for Kerry, but Filipinos for Bush.”

Emil found Filipinos at odds with the greater Asian community, backing Mr. Bush with 56 percent of the vote on the grounds of moral and veteran rights compared to the Asian vote of 74 percent for Mr. Kerry. As our voting record stands, perhaps we rightly deserved our own check box.

Now, I’m sure the Filipino box had good intentions, perhaps placed there so Filipinos could indeed find their own voice within the pan-Asian coalition, bolstering new life in our own political participation which at present, according to Professor Daniel Gonzales of San Francisco State University, could be described as abysmal at best.

But invigorating the Filipino political base by this means has undue detrimental effects. Confining us to our own box would not only alienate us from the broad pan-Asian community, but also confuse our own identity as Asians and would legitimize the notion that Filipinos indeed have no connection to any of its Asian neighbors whatsoever.

The Philippines may straddle the American-Spanish-Chinese divide incorporating a European religion and Western customs but the fundamentals, which the country was rooted upon, have more in common with Indonesia than any of the other foreign influences. With that said, it is essential to refocus where Filipinos indeed belong… with Asians.

Enough of the systematic isolation. As the saying goes, “Texans are Americans but not all Americans are Texans.”

So too should Filipinos be in relation to Asians. However culturally-separated or politically-disenfranchised we are from other Asian Americans, it is essential we remain united with them as a solid Asian block, ready to present all our issues to the broad American public who many mute us out.

There is no need for a separate box. -PDM

See this article,"Boxed In" in Philippine News. Click here.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Occupiers not Liberators

By Philip Dominguez Mercurio

RECENTLY, the Republican convention took center stage after the conclusion of the summer Olympics in Athens.

For four long days, GOPers watched as the superstars from their party paraded into primetime and onto the television screens of hundreds of thousands. From the humble honesty of John McCain to the powerful poignancy of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

All elements were in place to trounce the Democrats this November and bring home another four years for President George W. Bush.

Though the podium was filled with all the big names, critics argued that the bulk of speakers held a moderate inclination and didn’t represent the more conservative stance the White House stands for.

That is … expect for one man, who not only stood out from the rest because of his downright conservatism but also because of what he was not … a Republican.
His name is Zell Miller, the Democratic senator from the state of Georgia.

Called a traitor and a “zellout” by some while someone who has finally seen the light by others, Senator Miller once spoke as the keynote speaker during the 1992 Democratic Convention, nominating Bill Clinton for the top job. Now disgruntled and infuriated by his own party leadership, he broke partisanship ties, speaking out in front of the 2004 Republican Convention, jumping out in favor of policies instituted by President Bush.

Focusing solely on the issue of terrorism, Miller bashed away at Kerry’s policies, considering them too “faint-hearted,” relying too much upon foreign guidance for the deployment of American forces. He contested Kerry’s voting record during his 20-year tenure, vilifying him for opposing the weapons which the military have used for the good of the nation.

He scolded the direction his party was taking believing its rhetoric against the president for partisan reasons has placed the entire nation in grave danger. And he didn’t stop there.

Along with Kerry and his fellow Democrats, he slammed the media who he considered ungrateful for their right of freedom of press which the military had given them. He stuck out at the protesters who have taken siege of the streets surrounding Madison Square Garden, considering them as agitators who have abused their liberty by burning the American flag which American soldiers have worked so valiantly to protect.

In all this satirical bashing in what some media experts considered a speech filled with anger, there was one thing that struck out most about his speech: His argument about how the Democrats have interpreted the use of U.S. military forces during foreign engagements.

He went on about how the Democratic leadership considers the American forces as occupiers, not liberators. He cited examples of how the American forces have always been liberators, freeing one-half of Europe form the satanic empire of the Nazis, freeing the lower half of the Korean Peninsula from its communist enemies from the north and saving the souls of half a billion people in Eastern Europe from the grips of the Red army.

He concluded by saying:
“Never in the history of the world has any soldier sacrificed more for the freedom and liberty of total strangers than the American soldier.”

This statement was geared deliberately for the ears of eager conservatives wanting to be prepped up about America’s good deeds in Iraq but was the accompanying applause of the audience the correct reaction? How valid were such remarks?

During his post-interview, CNN senior analysts prodded Senator Miller over just that, the relevance of the accusations he mentioned during his speech.

They asked him how he could be so harsh on Kerry over being a flip-flopper when he himself had done the same; how could he accuse Kerry of a weak voting record on defense budgets when Dick Cheney was leaning in the same direction during his term as secretary of defense; how could he attack the Democrats about calling the soldiers occupiers when President Bush also has referred to America’s presence as an occupation?

Miller side-stepped much of the questions, claiming he didn’t know whether their facts were true but continued to insist Kerry was wrong.

What about his assertion about Americans being liberators, never occupiers. According to Senator Miller, it seems American soldiers have always sacrificed themselves for the liberty of others and never done otherwise. His examples seem to prove that much.

But tell that to Lito Cortes. In his poem, “English as a Second Language,” Cortes deals with his frustrations of teaching Philippine history to Americans. At first, his students were considerate, even understanding when the focus was about the Spanish and their colonization of the country.

But when faced with the American occupation of the Philippines, the betrayal of the Filipino freedom fighters and then the subsequent ways American soldiers and the government went about to suppress the guerillas for their desired goal of pacification, his students digressed from their considerate position and isolated themselves within what Cortes describe as “a wall of language.”

Cortes found the English language as an effective form of control, a form of power to suppress the Filipino’s cause for freedom while justifying America’s means for colonizing another nation. In a way, their control of English was the perfect way for ghosts of America past to barricade themselves within concepts such as “benevolent assimilation,” to forget about their bloody, blundering with their little brown brothers and assume it was their manifest density to be there.

But Cortes does not heed. If English is the weapon used to keep Filipinos under control then Cortes decided to use English language, through his poetry, as his own weapon of choice. Americans may hide within the abstract concepts of “impregnable verbs and impossible idioms” but Cortes decides to bring the “blood and gores of (his) forebears,” physical and concrete concepts which he could now use to scale their “impregnable” wall of language. Cortes was bent on making Americans confront the ugly part of their past by holding the ghosts of yesterday accountable for their sins.

But many, including Miller, have yet to confront their past. Miller was just like one of Cortes’ students, adhering to the American tradition of hearing using earplugs: taking them out when one wants to hear something and putting them back on to block out all the rest. Howlin’ Jake Smith and General Otis must have been applauding in the coffins during Miller’s speech, obviously thrilled that they’re work now was seen as something which has increased the scope of freedom and liberty throughout the world.

Miller would never heed advice from such a poet as Cortes. According to him, “It is the soldier, not the poet, who has given us the banner of America the free.” He, along with many other Americans, fully believes America is the champion of freedom and liberty and no beamish such as this would taint that final assessment. They consider American policy like the pope once considered himself– perfectly infallible, and anything contrary to that was to be considered blasphemy.

Miller assumed full control of the English language that night, creating a wonderful smear campaign hitched onto numerous false and misguided premises to justify an end without any means. Even the littlest of assertions about always being liberators, not occupiers may seem so small and perhaps significant only within the political realm but such insensitivity of the truth of the matter perpetrates deeper wounds and deeper sorrows.

For when other American students pick up their American history books and read though the Spanish-American War text, Americans will never see themselves as an occupier, guided by self-serving policies inconsiderate of the harm such policies would do upon a people halfway around the world.

Thanks to Senator Miller, Americans instead would be justified in seeing themselves as liberators of grateful nation, who were happy to exchange their sovereignty from one foreign power to another, who were happy to sacrifice upwards of a million people to leave peacefully under the rule of the stars and stripes. - PDM

See this article,"Occupiers not Liberators" in Philippine News. Click here.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Over Glo and Morality

By Philip Dominguez Mercurio

AS THE dust settles from the firestorm that President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo brought the world months ago, it’s good to ask: What could have driven Ate Glo into finally succumbing to the kidnappers’ demands?

We could all speculate on what grounds she made her decision on, whether it was to insult another administration or as payback to someone she owed. Who really knows?

I have a theory though. Perhaps it was her education.

Now, I could understand where Ate Glo is coming from. I used to go to a high school run by the same order as the one Ate Glo went to in Georgetown.
They’re known as the Jesuits, a teaching order established hundreds of years ago by the general-then-blessed-saint Ignatius of Loyola.

The essence of their teachings was to question everything and anything that can and could be questioned.

Even questioning the definition of “is” is completely acceptable as long as it seems ill-defined in the context that it was placed.

Bill Clinton could understand that. He was classmates with Arroyo.

Another important thing established by the Jesuits is their inherent conviction about having a good grasp of morality: theoretically, the concept of being able to differentiate between what’s considered good and what’s conceivably known as bad and following through on the good.
After all the theology and oratory one must go through, the morality class ends with a final exam, half of which is devoted to multiple choice questions and the other half devoted to one question and one question only.

Here, you are given a small selection of people, representing a broad spectrum of the society.

Each is given a profile, differentiating in criteria from age, sex to health and wealth.

The only problem is that this group of people has been placed in a situation where one needs to die for their group to have any chance of surviving. Your task is simple: Given this selection of people, who would you choose to die for and why?
Most people who approach this question simply use the “survival of the fittest” theory as their guide, singling out the weakest or oldest of them all and justifying why their life was worth less in comparison to the others.

Now remember, getting this question right or wrong would pretty much determine whether you passed or failed the course so having the correct answer is so essential. And wouldn’t you know it but the answer most students wrote down was nowhere close to the answer morality indicates is correct.

According to the Jesuits, no one deserved to die. Even though all might perish, no one rightly has the authority to choose who would die for the rest of the group. Anyone’s life, regardless of the situation they’re in, is valuable. And so was Angelo de la Cruz’s.

It may be said that with the capitulation of the Philippines to the demands of some rogue elements, the country has suddenly placed itself in a precarious position.

Other Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) in and around the Middle East might become easy targets for the next wave of kidnappings.

Rogue elements in the Philippines may have more resolve to push around government officials for their own bidding.

And Arroyo’s whole administration would have lost its credibility to their so-called American allies and perhaps the world over.

Lo and behold, it may very well seem that the Philippines has sacrificed so much for just one life.
But as morality teaches, that was exactly the right thing to do.

In the preceding example, it was necessary to sacrifice all for the benefit of just one person’s desire to live.

It’s gamble all right in which everyone’s life becomes in danger but the fact that everyone’s life is important preceded the necessity to choose the death of one for the benefit of the remaining.

Now, who knows whether this incident would make Filipinos more of a target throughout the world. That’s just an assumption and whether or not one chooses to risk one’s life on some assumption that might happen, is truly silly.
Just remember, Filipinos in the Middle East don’t exactly get fair treatment in the states they are in. Whether or not Angelo was in the picture may not have made much of a difference.

Even if Angelo was sacrificed in the name of “willingness,” I do not foresee the Saudis or Kuwaitis treating our OFWs with any more respect and freedom than they have already. To them, they’re second-class citizens before and after de la Cruz.

Now, what really gets me is the backlash the American Filipino community has heaped upon the small shoulders of Mrs. Arroyo.

Just a few months ago, I could walk through the senior citizen centers along Sixth St. and Filipinos would ask me worriedly whether Gloria had any chance against the actor-turned-terminator, Fernando Poe Jr.

Most hoped and prayed Arroyo would be elected another six years for the stability of the country. When that happened, they were absolutely ecstatic. Oh, how times have changed.

Let me just say, for those of you who wanted Mrs. Arroyo back in office: This is the candidate whom you were so adamantly in favor of winning so you should support and respect her decision as well. They come hand in hand.

If you remember correctly from 2003, she is the type of person who would flip-flop on her promises and she wouldn’t have run again if she hadn’t done so.
If you wanted a willing participant in Bush’s war on terror, perhaps you should have voiced your approval for the other candidates.

There were many to choose from. Maybe they were willing to make the sacrifice Mrs. Arroyo wasn’t.

This isn’t the first time American Filipinos flip-flopped on the issues.
History notes the Marcoses as a brutal dictatorship, hoarding millions for themselves while stifling any opposition that stood in their way.

That same history also tends to forget that a majority of American Filipinos were surprisingly in favor of their old president.

In fact, it wasn’t until the end of his rule when most in our own community finally turned their backs on Imelda and her entourage.

As one American Filipino professor at San Francisco State notes to his students, much of the community was silent on that little piece of history.
The same could be said about other issues like the I-hotel but then again, that was all a long time ago.

Today, Arroyo faces criticism for pulling troops out of a still unstable country for the life of one OFW.

She came out on a limb for one almost lost soul and lost a chunk of American Filipino support in the process.

She was willing to challenge the status quo and place her belief in the basics of what she learned in Georgetown to the task.

It was gutsy. It was different. It may have been politically wrong but it was indeed morally correct.

Funny thing is, when we were kids, the difference between a good and bad decision was so straight-forward.

If given a question and asked whether or not it was right or wrong, we would answer it so quickly and so precisely.

As you grow older through, so many different problems, speculations and factors interplay and intertwine with what would have been a very simple answer for a child.

Things from appeasing others to reflecting on how your response would look upon other diplomatic nations become more important in weighing the equation than one person’s life.

Ate Glo hopefully remembered to reflect back and realized what was right through her inner instinct.Let me close by saying this: If her decision to pull out of Iraq was weighed more on other factors and not on the hope of saving one’s life, then I would question the means she had done to accomplish this.

But if her decision was based solely on her conviction, without the wrangling of the political schemes in her midst, then she definitely passed her morality exam with an A+. - PDM
See this article,"Over Glo and Morality" in Philippine News. Click here.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Keep on Dancing

By Philip Dominguez Mercurio

A COLD Monday morning in June. We stood atop a hill over- looking Interstate 80 watching the cars participate in their daily rush to work.

Before us was a hole covered in thick green sheets to conceal the dirt below it. Lifting part of it, you could see the gravestone of our Grandma – Rufina Dominguez Wabe – who passed away three years ago.

My Aunt Corazon, sensitive to the chilly western breeze, decided to return to my car to keep warm. She didn’t stay there for long.

As more people arrived from the procession, the arching crowd of people soon provided a nice windbreak against the chilly Pacific breeze.

Funerals are usually revered for those amongst us in the aging ranks or have a series of chronic illness.

When the aged pass away, though it is sad, we accept their passing as a normal part of life.

When funerals occur without either those two conditions present, a kind of uneasiness settles in. That’s what happened in this case.

Today was one of the first times a cousin in my own generation passed away.
It all happened unexpectedly, the news hitting everyone by surprise.In relation to me, Carolyn Wabe Carig was my third cousin or put another way, my great-grandaunt’s great-granddaughter (does that make sense?).

Thanks in part to the very large web-like families Ilocanos are notoriously known for making.

A few weeks ago, Carolyn collapsed on the floor without warning, during a ‘No Doubt’ concert, losing her pulse and then her life soon thereafter.
She had some health problems but nothing that could have been considered life-threatening.

If she had any imminent signs of a worsening condition, at least no one, including herself was aware of it.

To the best of my knowledge, right before her death she had been livelier than ever, this being her first time to see her favorite band live on stage.
Unfortunately, a week later, nothing was even remotely close to the word livelier.

As the choirs of hymns sung Beethoven’s ‘Ave Maria,’ there was the mother, weeping almost hysterically amongst the distraught crowd.

The chilling scene was an eerie reminder of the enormous pain people go through when losing a loved one, especially when that loved one happens to be their own child

Right when they were about to close the coffin for the final time, Carolyn’s closest friends started to weep out loudly while her mother couldn’t help but jump up and down, still unable to accept that she was finally gone.

Such scenes which grip your spinal column in such a way that send a deep shrill down all the way to the tailbone would make anyone thinking logically to question why the Lord would allow such occurrences to happen.

It goes against our most fundamental of all principles that the innocent don’t deserve to die.

A lady I met during mass answered that question. A common church attendee herself, she happened to overhear of Carolyn’s death during the regular Sunday litany and became interested after finding out that her family name happened to be the same as the deceased.

As she noted to me later, she doesn’t know of many Carigs like her in America so she wanted to send out her own condolences.

Knowing that much of those affected were only kids, she tried to give some advice on ways to cope with such a tragic loss.

She simply said this was God’s plan, her mission in this life was over so now she was allowed to go on and fulfill new things.

This in no way is a sign that God was punishing her but more that her job here was over now.

For the crowd in attendance, this has been an awakening to us as well.
Perhaps those problems that we considered important before weren’t as important as we once thought.

Those things seen as essential and necessary back then now are almost inconsequential when placed relative to the loss of a loved one.

Events like this open up one’s eyes to value what’s really important, to sharpen one’s eyes through the murky water and focus on the things that matter the most.

Carolyn’s older brother, Marc, a former staff editor at Filipinas Magazine, said it best when he observed this was one way Carolyn was able to bring us all together as a family, to forget our minor differences and unite as one.

Today isn’t a day of mourning but a realization of what we’ve all gained, a better understanding of the importance of our life through her death.

During the eulogy, Manong Marc quoted the last words of the song “Hella Good,” the last words his sister must have heard before she passed away.

“Keep on Dancing,” Gwen Stefani could be heard saying over overtures of the low bass guitar. Carolyn kept on dancing. Her mission accomplished. - PDM

This week article is dedicated to our cousin, daughter, sister and friend, Carolyn Wabe Carig of San Pablo CA who died on the 20th of June, 2004. Her family misses her very much. She was only 23.

See this article,"Keep on Dancing" in Philippine News. Click here.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

My Two Cents

By Philip Dominguez Mercurio

A FEW months ago, I received a call from the editorial staff informing me of a meeting at our headquarters. No reason was given about what was to be discussed but all I knew was they wanted me to attend.

In the glassed conference room were seated all those in the newsroom with a youthful exuberance for an immediate brainstorming meeting.

Its aim: To identify ways in which the paper could attract a more youthful readership.

As of now, the paper has mainly garnered an audience with older faces. This may be great for the short-term but as long-term prospects are concerned, an audience would be harder to achieve over time, if you know what I mean.

Mr. editor-in-chief, Lito, was concerned if we veered too far from our present readership and forgot about ways of luring newer ones. We would slowly lose readers and progressively run out of steam. And that definitely wouldn’t be good.

Now, it’s not like Lito and his cohorts haven’t tried anything before. At times, many times even, we’d have features based on the Filipino American youth, from musicians, pop stars to singers.

But technically, there has never been a way to acquire a sustainable youth section.

Everything and anything that could possibly have some relevance to the kids of our generation was placed on the big board. Technology to women’s issues. You name it… we wrote it.

At the end of the hour, we had a broad spectrum of topics to choose from. One topic did disturb me though. Politics.

My first thoughts at the prospect of a youth political section: O h*ll no. If I’m not mistaken, it was Lito who thought of putting that topic up there.
From the onset, my obvious opposition toward the political realm was simple.

There was no need for another political section in the paper. Enough of the op-ed is covered already by our columnists, Emil and Rodel, among others. Another section would have been overkill.

I did not explain it in that way when I asked that it be removed but it was removed at my request. No long-winded justification required.

Now that I come to think of it though, my decision that the youth ignore the political aspect would be wrong
One of our Filipino American teachers at San Francisco State, Prof. Daniel P. Gonzales, suggested that, even as American Filipinos who grew up here in America, ignoring the Philippines, as it presently stands, would be folly.

We mustn’t forget that the very reason Filipinos immigrated here to America is greatly influenced by the political landscape of our home country. How policies are made and rotated within the island’s political system, has a direct impact not only on the Filipino communities in Saudi and the Middle East but also on the very make-up of our own community.

So even though politics may not have the attractive appeal that other topics may garnish, it still is important, even for American Filipinos who stay on this side of the Pacific coast.

So, what’s my two cents on the political landfill which is the Philippines? We’ll, I’ll tell you.

If the Philippines was in any way going to be the “showcase of democracy” that America wanted it to be, let me just say, we’ve done quite a fine job following through with it, becoming a model of how a real democracy should be when placed in high gear.

It’s easy to dispute that, I’m sure, and claim the total opposite. I mean to the world, Philippine politics resembles a circus of clowns and cronies neither stable or worthy of any recognition whatsoever in mainstream newspapers.

Such a disgraceful show of ignorance of the people’s needs and only looking out for number one would make Filipino, home or abroad, abhorrently ashamed of heritage.

But how could anyone blame their actions when the Philippines just happens to be following America’s lead? If America could land a B-actor as president, the Philippines could do one better and elect an A+ actor.

If California could recall their head of state, the Philippines could do one better and recall not one but two of them by massive upheaval.

And let us not forget the incredible long time it took the Philippines to finally get the results of our last election. Hanging chad or no hanging chad, the state of Florida wasn’t needed for our election to be as fraudulent as ever.

No wonder Filipinos living in America have good reason for trying to get involved in Philippine politics.

Their hope is that through their efforts, they would be able to sway undecideds back home to consider the right candidate for the country and that in the end, would prove to be more fruitful for their kababayan in the PIs.

In the short term, this may very well be helpful for the country for the correct candidate may have been chosen. But in the long run, such meddling would prove disastrous.

Their decision on who would be their next leader would always need to be blessed by foreigners looking in before their judgment could have a hint of validity.

We would have reinforced the idea that the masses are just a bunch of ignorant voters who have no idea, election after election, who the real candidate should be and must always need to be lead hand-in-hand to the correct choice.
As for me, watching the election fiasco proceed is important but to get involved in it to make an impact would be wrong.

Let them make mistakes. Mistakes are human. Only through their mistakes will the masses come to understand what to look for in a candidate and also what not to look for.

But to continue to lead them in their choice of candidates from the outside only invites them to never believe in themselves.

It is perhaps the loss of confidence of the masses in their own electoral system that is the worst thing that has happened in the Philippines and this will only be perpetuated, not diminished, by the influence of outside involvement. What you would have in the end is a populace that will never learn to do the right thing and always rely on massive, disruptive rallies to fix another foiled election.

Perhaps the unrelenting pork-barreling, the down-right-dirty politicking and our affinity for being one of the banana republics will never cease to exist.
It may very well be in our country’s nature to be the corrupt capitalist that we are, a habit that is also practiced in vigor among the nations that surround us.

But the thing that separates us from those countries, is the fact that only internal forces within their countries determine the outcome of their elections. They may also have hoards of money being pocketed left and right, but never is there a need for their candidates to plead aboard to garner votes.

Even countries like Indonesia that rank even more corrupt than ours (though the Philippines ranked in as the fourth most corrupt country in Asia, our behemoth friend to the south still beats us for the gold) may have all the bloody riots they want, but they still could achieve an improving economy thanks to a smooth electoral process.

Restoring the faith in the political system may be the biggest challenge the Philippines will face. Poverty and corruption may always exist on the islands but with a confident electorate, changes could be enacted to alleviate those pains.

And that’s my two cents. - PDM

See this article,"My Two Cents" in Philippine News. Click here.

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Incessantly Superstitious

By Philip Dominguez Mercurio

TRUTH be told, I’m not exactly a superstitious person. I try not to believe in stuff out of the extraordinary or in the “too good to be true” category. That’s not my style.

But beliefs could change very quickly.
After my third cousin’s funeral, I happened to leave the funeral banner, the banner which allows you to participate in vehicular processions, on the windshield. I was too lazy to take it off.

The night after the funeral, my observant girlfriend, Debi, told me to take off the banner for it might bring bad luck.

In fact, everything associated with a funeral, particularly the deceased person, must be disavowed immediately before that luck runs astray.
These include leaflets given during the mass about the deceased, pictures of the deceased and signs.

Of course, I didn’t listen.

Learning about things in the Philippines, you realize how awash we are in strange and superstitious beliefs.

Just ask most of the older folk. They would be happy to tell you.
In a bit of obvious over-confidence in myself, I didn’t remove the sign from the windshield and left it on until the next day.
The next day came and nothing happened… at least at the onset.
I was in the room working on something when all of a sudden, “Philip. Your car. Your car!”

Debi’s uncle was calling me from the hallway. His eyes were filled with a sense of urgency.

I walked gingerly toward the front, blatantly unaware of the seriousness of the situation.

Ay escalor!
There was a car attached to the rear of my vehicle, with an unconscious driver still seated inside.

At the time, there was a bit of confusion from us and the observers who witnessed the accident about what to do.

Soon, a fleet of police and emergency vehicles arrived at the scene, blocking off the busy Hayward intersection.

Apparently, a lady in a maroon Pontiac Grand Am didn’t realize the red light at the corner of Winton and Stonewall, a very busy intersection for its proximity to Southland Mall.

In the process of running the red light at incredible speed, she rear ended a green five-series BMW, crushing its trunk and sending it into the middle of the intersection.

Losing control of her own vehicle, the Grand Am coasted right toward the residential neighborhood, ending up in our driveway where my car was parked.
I could fret all I want about the damage brought onto my own car but I didn‘t suffer any physical injuries, salamat naman.

The family in the BMW, also Filipino, seemed particularly stunned, their sedan turned into a hatchback instantly.

The mother was sent off in an ambulance in a neck brace, perhaps suffering from whiplash. I hope they are okay.

The woman who caused the mess had to be slapped into consciousness, her face firmly planted onto the steering wheel. Bruised and bleeding, her removal was a delicate operation.

As they wheeled off the wreck from the end of my car, I wondered if there was truth behind their assertion that leaving funeral emblems would cause bad luck.
Debi and her family were to take no chances.

Debi berated me about leaving the funeral sign at the windshield.
Soon, Debi’s parents informed me also of their belief that immediately after a funeral, one must wash their car to remove all the bad luck.

With sponge and hose in hand, Debi and I washed the car thoroughly, making sure no bad luck remained.

Never have I been so conscious about such superstitions till that day. I mean, I’ve heard many of them before but took none of it seriously.

My Aunt Norma was the first to explain to me about the all-famous turn-your-plate-when-a-visitor-is-leaving-the-table theory.

The idea is to basically turn your plate 180 degrees when a visitor leaves to ensure good luck.

Then there is the don’t-eat-an-egg-on-the-day-of-your-exam theory from my Grandma Uding. She believes that if you do so, that day, you would get a zero on your exam.
Asking why the idea of eating eggs is bad on examination days, I learned that it’s because the egg resembled a zero.

Then I began wondering if the superstition would be lost if you scrambled it.
Then there’s the ultimate superstition from my Grandpa. When it comes to planting vegetables, he always tills on days with no “R” on it.

The idea is that the days with “R” in them are bad luck, at least for planting the seedlings. For him, those days would be Thursday and Saturday.
Of course, confusion starts when you realize that the days without “R” should really be Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.

The correction comes once you realize that he is not basing this on “English” days. Nor on “Spanish.”
And it doesn’t end there. Seedlings also shouldn’t be planted on days where the last number of that day is not pointing up when you end writing it.

Those numbers which end going up include three, five, eight and nine.
Ergo, if it’s a Tuesday, a day considered a good day to plant because walang “R,” but the date is on a 7th then my Grandpa would not be willing to plant the seedlings. They would have to wait until the next day.

Remember that the superstition that it’s okay to plant because the number is now going up, “8”.

Now these are only three of the hundreds of superstitions that either exist in the islands or are imported from mainland Asia and are integrated into our vast warehouse of spooks.

Strange and at times ridiculously funny when practiced, many people still remain steadfast in following these old-time superstitions.

I never considered the validity of such anomalies in life.

Growing up in a society such as America all my life, eerie superstitions from the past enter the science of mystery and disbelief most of the time.

You’d only need to watch television on a regular basis to realize that any strange phenomenon on the boob tube usually are the works of genius graphic artist and not of supernatural beings.

Either that or the phenomenons or coincidences that were ages ago believed to be the works of mysterious life forms now have been scientifically or mathematically explained.

Therefore, actual belief in such strange fiascos is down to a temporary minimum. But thanks to one lady and her interesting way of driving, my whole idea about superstitions has gotten a new facelift. And it looks scarier than ever before.

*** ***

My Auntie Norma was ready to go home to good old England as I was eating some fish. As she was ready to leave, I politely turned my plate at her insistence for good luck. “I am going now, balong,” she said with a good-bye kiss. Then, she, unaware of my previous actions, revolved my plate another 180 degrees.

The bangus now faced the same direction. “Auntie,” I exclaimed, “You moved the fish again.” She froze then revolved the plate again. The bangus went for a total of 540 degrees.

Who knows if we’re still lucky. All I know is the fish must be dizzy.

See this article,"Incessantly Superstitious" in Philippine News. Click here.

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

A Historical Look at Leche Flan

By Philip Dominguez Mercurio

SAN FRANCISCO – THIS one week, I was watching the movie “Envy” with my girlfriend and her close friend. We went to the Sony Metreon after a wonderful day of shopping and succumbed to the realization that we needed a break from all the walking and escalating we did around Union Square – specifically in the seven-story mammoth of a store, Macy’s.

It was concluded therefore that sitting in the cushion chair for two hours in front of a huge screen would be a perfect solution to relieve our tired, worn-out feet.

“Envy,” a movie starring Ben Stiller and Jack Black, is about two working-class neighbors – one who is a dreamer and the other one who doesn’t believe a word the dreamer says.

Nick Vanderpack, the dreamer played by Jack Black, constantly envisions inventions that have the possibility of changing the world and ends up stepping upon a gold mine by inventing a spray that apparently zaps dog poop and other turds miraculously into thin air.

Tim, played by Ben Stiller, can’t help but feel envious in the midst of his new neighbor’s found wealth and lambaste in contemplation about how his life would have been had he helped invest in his friend’s endeavor from the beginning.
Now, while watching this movie (which if you’d ask me wasn’t as funny as I thought it’d be), I was taken aback by one of the scenes that took place in the exquisite dining room of Nick Vanderpack.

In this scene, Nick tells his whole family to join him at the dining table to eat the dessert that the servants have prepared.

His family, in robotic-like fashion, rush downstairs in happy anticipation, screaming the dessert’s name: flan!

Now as a Filipino, my first instinct was to go, “Hey! Isn’t that a Filipino dish?”

I’m referring to leche flan, a time-honored dish in the Philippines. As I looked upon the glowing screen, I couldn’t help but notice that the flan they were eat was almost akin to our own leche flan.

It instantly brought back memories of my daddy cooking leche flan in the oven and watching him turn over the metal mold revealing the yellow custard with caramel-looking sauce on the top. For a moment, I started to believe that Filipino food was finally being accepted by the American masses. It was indeed, a dream come true!

By the end of the movie, I told my girlfriend that what they were eating was a Filipino dessert, but she didn’t buy it one bit, stating, “Are you sure you didn’t steal it from some other cultures?”

Now, as much as I wanted to defend myself and my cuisine from that statement, she brings up a good point. For example, our lumpia, which may resemble a Chinese egg roll or more likely a Vietnamese imperial roll, was once thought by me to be solely one of our national recipes, unique only to us and no one else.

Say “lumpia” to someone else and instantly you have the epitome of Filipino cuisine. If we wanted, Filipinos could have made it our national flag representing our adherence to our tummies; this may have been the case, if it were not for the fact our flag is already beautiful in and of itself.

Of course, the belief that the lumpia was solely ours was short lived once I met my girlfriend who happens to be Indonesian. She works at an Indonesian restaurant downtown, appropriately named “Indonesia Restaurant” and to my dismay, I found them selling lumpias on their menu.

Now, it’s not as if they were stealing it from the volumes of wonderful recipes from our country. Apparently, our neighbors to the south have been eating and wrapping these rolls for centuries and they’ve always called them lumpias.

Maybe we could have fought for the lumpia label but since for every one Filipino on this planet, there are three Indonesians, I really don’t think we’d have a chance to claim it as our own. But no matter who gets to claim the rights to being the original creator of lumpia, let’s just say that it definitely throws out my idea for a lumpia flag.

Of course, this gets me back to the flan and finding out conclusively, whether or not this is a Filipino dish, which I’ve always believed it was.

Searching on Google for an hour, I found that flan is a custard, which could be found in many countries across the world from Spain and Portugal, all the way to Mexico and Cuba.

Though one could argue that flan is really a “Spanish Custard” since Spain considers it its national dessert, the flan’s roots could be traced way back to the Ancient Roman period. The word, flan, was derived from the Latin word flado, meaning “custard.” Apparently, this egg-enhanced super dessert was believed to have many health benefits, thanks to the egg yolks, from alleviating chest pains to decreasing urinary tract problems. So technically, we could thank the Spanish for importing this dish to our shores.

There is no striking difference between our leche flan and the Spanish flan. Eggs, condensed and evaporated milk and vanilla extract are standard. Some sites suggest that the Filipino version should use duck’s eggs but these are usually hard to come by except in balut form.

I’d say I’d be interested if someone did try making it really from balut eggs though. Because I’m sure it’ll resemble something straight out of Rex Navarrete’s imagination.

At any rate, whether duck or chicken yolk or even balut, I find myself disappointed again with another recipe technically not really being “ours” per se. Maybe our culture, instead of making our own dishes, is better at taking other dishes and improving upon them. Just like the jeepneys have proven – we as Filipinos can’t help but reformat and modify things that would otherwise be plain to begin with.

You could think of, I guess, spaghetti with cut-up hot dogs. In our own special way that will always be uniquely Filipino. – PDM

See this article,"A Historical Look at Leche Flan" in Philippine News. Click here.

Wednesday, June 02, 2004


By Philip Dominguez Mercurio

SAN FRANCISCO – IF EVER you wandered into the Sunset district in the late ‘80s – assuming you either wanted some good Chinese food from Irving or were just plain lost – you may have witnessed a little kid pedaling away along one of the sidewalks. With colorful noise makers attached to axle of his wheels and a Cookie Monster bell for a horn, approaching him would have sounded like entering a junkyard hard at work. You couldn’t miss him.

That little kid was me. Back and forth along the same strip of block I went, never crossing the perimeter of asphalt. My mommy never allowed it – believing that kidnapping was rampant in the area. So I never did cross the line.
On this particular day though, an errand befell me.

While running up and down the side of the hill, one of our old next door neighbors, Olga, opened her door and called to me in need of some assistance. Approaching her at the door, she kindly asked if I would get her a half-gallon of milk from the corner store. The corner store was across the rails. The opportunity for me to expand my horizons had arrived.

Eagerly with petty cash in hand, I flew down the sloped street, jumping off the concrete curbs which divided each of the driveways while being yelled at by second-floor irate neighbors for daring to roll over their un-manicured lawns without permission.

Reaching the end of the block, I witnessed the expanse of Judah St. The street seemed relatively quiet, with no Muni trains in sight. I peddled across the street without getting run over.

Apparently, elementary school taught me well.

Once inside, the purchase of the lipid substance was executed with childish enthusiasm and now delivery was at hand. Speeding out of the store, I crossed the street once more. A bit unbalanced this time, thanks to the weight of the milk on one of the handle bars, I steadily progressed my way to the top of the hill.

Back at her doorway, Olga greeted me with her wrinkled smile, perhaps a product of both the sight of the milk and years of vodka binging. As she chatted away about how happy she was with receiving her milk, I got a full glimpse of the inner workings of her home. As I peeked inside, I saw a full living room equipped with your standard sofa and loveseat.

Now, this would have all gone unnoticed had it not been for one unnerving fact: one of the walls in the living room was really a garage door. This may seem strange anywhere else, but not in this part of town.

Sitting along the western edge of the San Francisco peninsula, this area commonly referred to by locals as the “Avenues” has more than one family per house. The little two-story homes, once the domain of a large Italian and Irish population, now are prominently- owned by the Chinese community, and an influx of Russians and Filipinos who convert these homes.

Homes once devoted to just one family, have catered to much more, with the houses usually turning into duplexes – with one unit above and one below. Sometimes the owner would live on the second floor or, on the first floor, renting out the second floor for a much pricier rent. Even more ingenious owners would convert their would-be-garage into livable space, retrofitting them with extra bathrooms and such, turning the house into a triplex.

Such audacious undertakings have made for some interesting entrance ways for would-be renters. To get to where I live, one must knock on the garage door first. After that level of security had been breached then the unacquainted visitor would finally reach the entrance to our home which was located in the interior of the house.

Other entrance ways required folks to ply through an elaborate maze of hallways or bizarre paths outside the house which requires a renter to strangely go to your landlord’s flowered backyard to get to your front door.

Even with such strange arrangements, rarely are there complaints. Tenants find this as a good alternative to living farther from the city where traffic is usually a residual nightmare, and landlords find this a particularly good way to make some extra cash. Much of this activity isn’t official with much of the transactions occurring away from the ire of government accountants. Shared bills for electricity are common; more so for the water; and mail must be sorted via a semi mailroom-like manner between tenant and landlord.

Such a mutual arrangement has been made possible thanks in part to the particular way tenants are acquired. For Filipinos, our culture has helped make landlord/tenant relationships possible with relative ease.

The talkative nature that Filipinos fancy with one another has made the talk-about-a-friend-about-such-and-such-place-for-rent-at-such-and-such-price, a reality. This friendly exchange has made it possible for newly-immigrated Filipinos to settle down quickly into the city and not become totally dependent upon relatives for a place to stay.

In the end, expenses are minimized, hours stuck in traffic are saved, and savings or at least, extra money is created from a situation that otherwise would not have been. But this is interesting when placed into facts and figures. Number crunching reveals that Filipinos, as a whole, are particularly wealthy in comparison to other ethnic backgrounds residing in the U.S.

Thanks to good portions of Filipino jobs shifted to the white collar/medical fields, the general consensus is that Filipinos have become a successful ethnicity.

These figures, while particularly outstanding for our community, unfortunately doesn’t account for many factors that often go unnoticed. Not accounted for is the fact that many of those white collar jobs are located in high expense areas where prices are sometimes higher than the national average, particularly in the Bay Area.

For instance, when real estate prices come to mind, they are considered so astronomical that the San Francisco Chronicle regularly quotes them as “surreal.”

Underemployment, particularly among the newly-immigrant population continues to hound many, forcing them to work in jobs that they were not actually trained in. So although Filipinos in the Bay Area may bring in heftier paychecks, many remain in jobs below their full potential while at the same time, paying gasoline prices which are 40 percent more than those in the state of Tennessee.

Faced with all this, Filipinos have resorted to many ingenious solutions to get by. At times, some Filipinos would aggregate like some globular fat atop some cooling adobo leftover, staying in households with more than the normal amount of people in them. And some Filipinos would resort to in-lawing.

While all these measures are cost-effective, they all translate to a misguided picture of the Filipino American community. On face value, the numbers show a vibrant, cash-wielding people but upon intense analysis, this masks a still struggling community.

Filipinos may have the buying power but at what cost? They may be driving the “fancy-fancy” car but continue to turn off the air-conditioner indefinitely so electricity bills won’t gobble up much of their paycheck.

Now, I’m not saying in any way that it’s a bad thing to participate in such things as in-lawing. From personal experience, I found living in the “garage” as having a profound impact upon myself in the future, a learning experience which influenced me to overcome challenges and hardships while being below what’s considered “average.”

Filipinos must realize that we haven’t exactly “made it,” so to speak. It still takes a lot of hard work and many sacrifices to achieve what we’ve gotten, lest we get caught up in the belief that everything’s alright. The numbers may be telling but they conceal many important facets, particular to Filipinos, that run contrary to our ultimate success as a community.

What is for certain, as our present situation plays out, is things such as in-lawing will continue to survive as a Filipino American subculture which will only persist due to the continuing stream of immigrants from the land of jeepneys and spam into the foggy quarters of Daly City.

The idea of in-lawing has a purpose, functioning as a needed transitional point from life in the Philippines to an American way of living. Where one has one foot in the American doorway, while still living in compact quarters which have a resemblance of home.

Without this harbor, new immigrants may find it much harder to get accustomed to this new fast-paced way of life. – PDM

See this article,"In-Lawing" in Philippine News. Click here.

Pure Filipino

… of Master Danongan Kalanduyan and his Palabuniyan Kulintang Ensemble
By Philip Dominguez Mercurio

SAN FRANCISCO - Riveting. It’s a word only used to characterize something that is captivating, motivating or something which elucidates a deep feeling from within oneself that at times cannot exactly be explained into actual words. Defined in this way, riveting also depicts the exact feeling I was having in the front row of the ODC Theater that Saturday evening.

If you missed it, there was another amazing, sold-out performance of Filipino sound by Master Danongan Kalanduyan and his Palabuniyan Kulintang Ensemble last month) at ODC Theater located in heart of the Mission District, San Francisco.
It was a thrilling, if not exhilarating experience, sitting in the front row with cameras blinking and camcorders rolling, all the while watching the percussionists and dancers do their thing.

The tumultuous sounds may have seemed incoherent at first but after just a few seconds of adjustment, one would be immediately awash with the beauty of Filipino culture. The beats are given color, a vibrant color which along with the energetic dancers and vivid fabrics, take you back to another world literally unknown to most people, most Filipinos… even Filipinos living in the Philippines.

Your standard grand piano may not be invited to this event.

Instead, instrumentation came in other forms with names that are more on the fancy-fancy side, like the babendil to the agung. The babendil, according to the kulintang website, is a small vertical hand-held gong, struck on its rim and functioned as the time-keeper of the ensemble. The agung is a very large wide-rimmed vertical-hanging gong, struck with a rubber-covered stick while the gandingan functions with a set of four large, shallow vertical-hanging gongs which graduate in size and in tuning.

Covered with a natural goat or lizard skin, the dabakan is the single-headed kettle-shaped wooden drum which Professor Begonia periodically spent time hella beating the s**t out of using a nifty pair of flexible rattan sticks. And of course, who could forget the kulintang, the main melody instrument in the ensemble, which looks like a bunch of golden bathtub stoppers for the misinformed. Altogether, they form the Kulintang Ensemble, a wonderful entourage of musical power only harnessed to its fullest potential when all instruments are in play.

It’s amazing that even with all the synthesizers and various other implements which electronically vibrate your ears and make you sing karaoke to your loudest nowadays, there is something almost fundamental about the sounds of this ensemble. This music doesn’t just jolt your ears and vibrate your 24-hour fitness belly… it also goes deep and jolts your roots, roots you may not even know had existed.

That’s what makes this music so inspiring. This music instantly brings you back to a time period rarely spoken about –when the Filipino was untainted by the effects of the cross and Coca-Cola; a time period that was, essentially, purely “Filipino.” What Master Danongan Kalanduyan has done (if I could borrow a few words from Professor Begonia for a moment) is give us a glimpse of the past, providing not only Filipino Americans but all Filipinos with evidence which is in blatant defiance of the old mythology that the Filipinos were uncivilized before the intrusion of the Spanish.

With every beat on the drum, with every whip of the fan, with every thump on the gong, you get a little closer to a part of your Filipino-ness that may have been shrouded by colonialism – a little closer to the realization that Filipinos had a unique culture that was sweetly innocent and admirably beautiful. In the end, you come away with an incredible pride in your culture, a more attuned self-perception of your own ethnicity that could only have been elicited by such an awe-inspiring presentation from the past.

And to think this would not have been possible without the tireless efforts of Master Danongan Kalanduyan, himself, effortlessly playing his kulintang for all to see, paving the way for Filipinos of the now and into the future, to continue these traditions that could have been lost forever.

It’s a wonderful sight to behold; one which I’ll personally treasure. Of course, as much as I could write about this topic, I don’t think anyone could capture the essence of this world-renowned artisan as eloquently as my teacher, Professor Begonia has: “It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to realize when you’re sitting there listening to this man, to realize what a master he is.

He truly is a master. He spent the last three decades, last 30 years of his life promoting this music, the music which I fondly call the ‘music of resistance.’ This music has been in the Philippines since 300 A.D. and Filipinos played it with a specific and special signature sound which you are now enjoying this evening.

And what Master Danongan Kaladuyan has done, he… has, for all intents and purposes, single-handedly introduced or reintroduced this music, to the United States, to Europe, to Japan, and for that matter to other parts of the Philippines that are not familiar with this music… and I just simply want to acknowledge his 30 years of dedication.”
We couldn’t agree with you more, sir. – PDM

See this article,"Pure Filipino" in Philippine News. Click here.

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

The New Generation of American Filipino

By Philip Dominguez Mercurio

SAN FRANCISCO - “WHAT do you think Matthew?”
John John stood sa corridor flanked by doorways; his question still reverberating back to his cousin, Matthew, who at the time was still making his way up the coiled stairwell.

Matthew, still a little lost from the new environment he was in, couldn’t help but nod in agreement with his older cousin.

Soon the two scurried into one of the rooms, then returned from another insane direction less than a minute later. Not contented, they headed in another direction; another bunch of rooms and corridors awaiting their sights.

Soon, comments could be heard in the distance.

“I ... I don’t have a feel for this one,” one said.
“Estoria is better.”
“No, NO ... Hidden Brook is still the best.”
Oh, just remember ... this is coming from kids who haven’t even graduated from elementary yet. Imagine my surprise.

Now, if names like Estoria, Hidden Brook or Victoria don’t immediately ring a bell, then you haven’t been doing what apparently my little nephews and I were seemingly enjoying at the time: That is... house-perusing.

Today, it seems we were tackling the houses of the Victoria complex, a gigantic spread of semi-mansional houses on the western edge of Hercules that in some ways seemed to complement the Amtrak and the surrounding ‘view’.

Manong Rick Crisostomo, the educated realtor he is, functioned as our guide that day, explaining to us the use of the two-tone along the interior walls and how the ability of certain plant ornamentations could create a sense of decorative feel without the hassle of looking for some unique combination of traditional furniture in some far-off antique shop somewhere.

As Rick and company went about their tour, their kids took little time to worry about any of the shading the paint created. Jam-Jami (or as I’ve nicknamed her, Jam-Jammer) and her younger cousin, Joshua raced across the elegant floor patterns in the kitchen, to retain some of the free bottled waters in the refrigerators while their older siblings were upstairs, kicking off their shoes, getting ready for lift off.

Flying like some circus seals do, these kids crashed into the humble mattresses located in the master bedroom, not exactly worried that others below may hear the ruckus they created by the thuds throughout the dry wall.

Kids like Matthew and Jam-Jami represent the new generation of Filipinos sa America, an enclave of upper-middle class children of the much more carefree variety. With much of their parents having already passed the phase of hardships in the inner city or the silly ‘small’ houses in pre-existing suburbia, these kids were now in the full spotlight of their parents’ success, basking in its heat and feeling the effects of its glow.

And it’s no wonder…

Their parents were now on the real estate market, buying new state-of-the-art houses, with rooms adjoining rooms and bathrooms galore. Places like Home Depot were their domain and their checkbooks seemed to have no bounds, accessorizing their houses with big barbeques and eloquent gardens with lawns that are “hella” green even while the surrounding hillside seemed to be contrasting with something “hella” dry.

Lalo na, with so much space inside, the items for the choosing seemed endless; along with the fancy curio, massive grand pianos, came big screen televisions with hundreds of channels which became more of the standard, not the exception to the rule.

My familiarity, of course, with such grandeur isn’t so since my parents weren’t exactly as “successful” when I was smaller as their parents happen to be now. Dreams and aspirations I had before as a youngling now seem almost inconsequential, judging by what my nephews are exposed to.

For example, I never had a bathtub at my place of living and so I’ve always wanted to have one. Bubble Baths were considered on the luxury side of the scale from my point of view. No wonder I enjoyed going to hotels so much.
Of course, the total opposite story plays out for these little nephews of mine.

The playground my little nephews, Gabriel and Joshua, are getting is larger than the in-law house I was born into.

In fact, it’s about the size of some of the playgrounds in Golden Gate Park (No, not the one near Kezar Stadium) but other ones along Martin Luther King Dr. Say what you will but no matter what … to me that’s huge! Of course, such obvious differences do bring me to my question.

In such well-off circumstances, will these kids remember what their parents and older generations living and gone had to go through just for them to enjoy what they’ve been given?

Or will it be forgotten under the cover of glamour, glitz and the occasional “bling-bling” that superimposes them?Though I’m in a much better disposition than before, the days growing up in Jay Z’s world of the “hard-knock lives” did have its interesting effect upon me.

In my world, hardship actually had some tangible meaning, for I could just look around at my surroundings for signs of it. Such a situation created a need to actually break out from such circumstances, inspiring me to trudge through school, wringing out the best grades and hopefully culminating into a better future for me in the end.

But for kids such as these, that urgency isn’t as present, being as elusive as trying to find cellular service in some parts of Hidden Brook.

That resolve to “try” isn’t exactly as necessary as it was for me, for they already “have” and so sometimes even their parents, who believe they’re “a - o.k.,” are usually caught off guard, stuck in the belief that being in such pleasant surroundings would eliminate the stench notoriously known to encircle inner-city environments, not realizing that past suburbias from East Bay to Orange County, once considered to be havens of good, have proven time and again that kids even in these more modest of settings could still easily succumb to evils that even high suburbia living can’t cure: that is the drugs, the street gangs and the like.

So, whose responsibility is it to continue the invaluable ideals that I learned from our hardships to these children before they become the victims of their parent’s success?

Well, that responsibility soon falls upon their parents and older relatives (like me) that surround them, whose job is to instill a sense of determination in their young hearts based on the valuable lessons that former generations had learned from their own experiences.

Kumon (math tutorial) and other math problems could only go so far as getting them through algebra but nothing will beat the time and true lessons of the Filipino experience, filled with its virtues of living the “American dream” along with its vices, like racism whether real or subtle and the continuing struggle to find identity in a world in which things like Prop 54 pop up, seemingly out of nowhere to try and derail our fragile existence.

It’s from these stories that these children will learn the true value of being a Filipino in America, where everything isn’t fancy and pretty but real and from there, will ultimately attain that “need” to be a success later on.

As I guarded the doorway, a couple passed us by; their eyes seemed to roll at me as if I was doing something wrong. Although medyo put off ako sa attitude they dispelled sa amin, I tried playing it off…

“Don’t worry... they’re just testing the springs,” I said point blankly.
OK. So maybe I capitulate to my nephew’s eagerness for adventure. But as far as I was concerned…

They’re still young. Let them have their fun. - PDM

See this article,"The New Generation of American Filipino" in Philippine News. Click here.

Wednesday, April 14, 2004

Beginning of a New Era

By Philip Dominguez Mercurio

SAN RAMON, Calif. - I WAS supposed to be in the building by noon. Unfortunately, I wasn’t.
At that very moment, I was still outside.

My little white car approached the guard station. I sat in the car, tense as usual, for I realized that my punctuality was just fueling the unproven stereotype that Filipinos are always prone to being relatively late.

With a complex of buildings in my midst, the nice lady popped out from the guard station and directed me to the visitor’s parking lot.

Hastily, I drove in, heading for the appropriately labeled lot. As I looked around, it became clear that this complex functioned like a miniature city.
The visitor parking lot was almost filled to capacity. I parked the car at the first slot I found open, figuring I couldn’t waste any more precious time than I had to, and raced for the main entrance.

Entering the lobby, you can’t help but feel like you’ve been sent into another world. Like a cross between corporate downtown and a BART station, with fellows in suits rushing to and fro between metal verification machines.
But no time for self-illumination.
A mere five minutes had passed but it seemed like a century.

Time was now of the essence.
I went up to the front desk.

“Excuse me. My name is Philip and I have a meeting with Chevron executives.”
“So you’re Philip of Philippine News,” the receptionist said, peering down at a sheet of paper.

“Yes. That’s me,” I said.

After some proof of verification, she handed me a clip-on visitor pass and directed me to the doors to the right of me. Still a bit puzzled, like a fish thrown into a new aquarium, I had to ask again where to go, lest I end up lost and enter a place I wasn’t supposed to be in.

Again, she directed me to those same doors, the likes of which resembled those doors from the Elvin Rivendale: tall, lanky and completely intimidating.
As I looked across the lobby toward the conference room, I was imagining what may have been taking place without me. With the uneasiness of knowing that I’d be disturbing an already seated audience, I walked toward the conference room, carefully opening the tall glass door and hoped for the best.

Inside, what I had initially anticipated, didn’t come to fruition. Instead, I found my hosts sitting about casually chatting away.

Well, what do you know .... Apparently, I wasn’t late at all. Instead, I was pleasantly on time.

Why this day held so much significance was the fact that this was the convergence of three great companies: Ayala Foundation, LBC Foundation and ChevronTexaco. What brings all these forces together is the formulation of something exciting. Something wonderful. Something extraordinary.

It’s basically the dawn of a new era for Filipino America.

Today was the initiation of Filipino American Community Youth Leader Fellowship Program, a program devoted specifically for the Filipino American who wants to fully understand who they are and where they came from.

Part soul-searching, part dedicated social service, the idea is to manifest some form of cultural connectedness for one’s own heritage while still extending a helping hand.

The program’s creation was based on a belief that many Filipino Americans are too “Americanized,” where ties to their parent’s country have already been lost after so many years under the stars and stripes to the point where there existed a necessity to reacquaint them back to their homeland before it’s too late.

So with the efforts of those in the Ayala and LBC Corp., it was hoped that something incredible, something exciting could be bred so alas, someone would be able to address this ever increasing divide between the unacquainted generations and the Philippines.

“I don’t think there is an internship or a foreign exchange program that really indicates this academic indignation of being a fellow… so I think this is exciting,” said Marivic Bamba, vice president of LBC.

“We realized, a lot of programs that are out there have been helping the youth become more familiar with their roots and things like that, but we wanted to create something that was different.”

And different this program is. This is the first time corporations from opposite sides of the world locked hands in the creation of a program that will produce future leaders that the whole of the Filipino American community will look up to. Said Mylene Chan, community involvement representative of ChervonTexaco, “It’s a great idea to bring youth to the Philippines and inspire in them some philanthropic and community involvement.”

Chan’s hope is not only to make them proud of their heritage but also to transform them into advocates for the Philippines and the Filipinos in the U.S.

“We wanted to not only enhance not only their culture familiarity but also create a pool of future philanthropists so young people will start to realize the importance of giving back to both the community, both in the United States and in the Philippines,” Bamba stated.

Slated for launch in the summer of 2004, the program is catered for 15 motivated fellows to work for two months in the Philippines.

A committee with representatives from Ayala Foundation and LBC will hand select the best and the brightest from the Filipino American community and formulate them into shining leaders.

“These leaders will have some expertise, experience and knowledge and share something of themselves so the learning goes both ways,” said Bamba.

Fellows will work with a selected host organization such as an NGO (non-government organization), a government agency, or an educational institution, specifically picked to encompass the criteria that the future fellow intends to take.

To fully experience the culture of the Philippines, fellows will live with host families so the fellows may fully appreciate the culture they are in.

Not only will the future fellow be exposed to the Philippines via the hands-on approach, but learning will also come by other means.

A three-day workshop in Metro Manila on “Proud to be Filipino” will be provided by Ayala Foundation, Inc.’s Filipinas Heritage Library, so future fellows may be integrated into the culture they set foot in while a buddy system formed from some of the top echelon of students in the Philippines will provide the future fellows with companionship on their journey to Filipino enlightenment.

All in all, the hope is for the fellow to come out of their experience with a sense of self-reflection and inner humility for the greater good of the community.

“This program will help them experience the pain of our widespread poverty but also the realization that so many groups are doing their share in improving the quality of life of Filipinos,” says Vicky Garchitorena, president of the Ayala Foundation USA.

“With that they can feel hope that we will, through the efforts of the NGOs with whom they will be implementing programs, be able to lift the nation out of the situation we are now in.” – PDM

See this article,"Beginning of a New Era" in Philippine News. Click here.

Wednesday, March 31, 2004

Carriers of Tradition

By Philip Dominguez Mercurio

THESE backpacks hailing from a region of the Philippines known as the Northern Cordilleras are now on exhibit at the Hohenthal Gallery of the Treganza Anthropology Museum of San Francisco State University.

Their beauty and exceptional craftsmanship is unlike any other – just another example of the wonders that have remained relatively hidden in the mountains of Luzon for so long.

Representing 10 ethno-linguistic groups – the Apayao, Tingguian, Kalinga, Gaddang, Bontoc, Kankana’ey, Ifugao, Kalanguya, Ibaloi, and Illongot – all of the bags come with their own style, shape and distinctive design, each retelling their own unique story.

Now, these bags could well have been mistaken for the more fashionable items paraded around the runways in Milan, but their essential purpose is more akin to the backpacks made by the likes of Jansport or Eastpak.

Sturdy, reliable and light-weight, such backpacks were the perfect outdoors utility carrier, ideal for hauling rice out of the rice fields, tobacco leaves from the plantations or tubers like ube or kamote from the farms. Perhaps even more intriguing by standards based on our trendier world is who used these bags of unique exquisiteness – the men.

Apparently, it’s the men, not the women, who not only sported around these fine backpacks but also wove these beautiful bags into existence. Because the bags were primarily used for hunting and farming, traditional “manly” occupations, the bags therefore became part of the man’s realm. How funny it is that times have drastically changed.

The backpacks or pasikings are usually made out of either rattan, a fiber from a spiny palm or bamboo, a plant found in the grass family. It takes several days to hand-craft one of these babies.

Using special rattan sizers, rattan could be shaven down to the proper size.

Now, don’t think you could just grab some rattan and start weaving away.

The rattan has to be at the correct moisture to be done properly. If it’s too dry, the rattan would become brittle and easily destroy the pasiking.

What may not exactly be understood by the modern world – where being materialist is in and ownership is prime –is that some of these bags are not owned by a single person. These bags are instead owned by a family or by the entire community and passed along from generation to generation; a fact which emphasizes the kinship held among Filipinos during that time.

For example, the tabka, a sacred backpack representing the ancestors, is a fine example of such communal ownership. “These backpacks are taken out when someone dies a usually violent death or an accident and are appeased to memorialize the victims with a certain type of ceremony,” says Charisse Aquino, senior student in anthropology and curator of the exhibit.

In fact, such bags have been passed down from person to person for so long, these backpacks have lost their former color. “You usually put these ceremonial pasikings by someone’s house, by the hearth. That’s why they have that charcoal smoky type of look and they actually smell like smoke,” Aquino says.

Unfortunately, such cultural practices have been slowly disappearing, thanks to the influx of modern culture and globalization. What was once an unaltered cultural landscape, unblemished by the waves of commercialism, has finally succumbed to the realities of a modern world.

Traditional basket weaving has lost much of its uniqueness; the materials and equipment have been modified and transformed away from what was considered customary; even women and children are now weaving such pasikings, not for their original purposes but to appease the throngs of tourists.

Even with this newly-found market, the culture of pasiking weaving also suffers simply from a disinterest in this formerly appreciated art. “People don’t want to weave anymore for there are so many other things to do in this fast-paced society,” says Aquino.

She also cites the missionaries as another factor to the pasiking’s demise. “There are so many missionaries trying to change the way the people live up here… they try to teach them all these westernized ways.”

But perhaps the greatest enemy of this endangered weaving society is poverty itself. Faced with the new challenges posed by globalization, these formerly secluded groups have been forced to choose between keeping their beloved treasures at the risk of starving or selling out to at least survive until the next day.

Knowing the people’s dire conditions, many foreign collectors loaded with cash have taken advantage, seizing some of the people’s most valuable pasikings, sometimes just for a pair of Levi’s.

In fact, so much hoarding has occurred that it shouldn’t surprise anyone that the United States and not the Philippines, has acquired the most Philippine artifacts in the world.

It’s a sad story – one in which these backpacks become simple trading pawns, caught up between the distraught world of poverty and the frenzied world of relic collecting. Any way you put it – it’s a tragedy in the making.

“Now I’m thinking, how much of our priceless treasures were stolen from the Philippines and now hang on people’s walls or stuffed in somebody’s attic?” says Danilo T. Begonia, a professor of Asian American Studies at SFSU.

“How much of this has been deprived of generations and generations of young minds, Filipino minds?”

Who knows? According to Begonia, not only have these priceless gems been removed from their place of origin, their relevance is also misrepresented during public displays. “See the thing about taking an artifact out of its organic source, is that often times, it’s seen simply as an artifact, as an object out of the context of what it means symbolically, spiritually, religiously, historically, culturally for those people.

So, although other folks who have stolen these artifacts pretend to want to educate the public, they know very little about the culture in which these artifacts were stolen from.

A lot of times these objects are rendered and presented in ways that actually are ignorant or worst yet, their histories and descriptions are distorted because often times the people don’t understand the language that they come from… and if language codifies culture, then you’ve missed the point completely.

Such distortions compound the original thief in that not only are you stealing stuff, but you’re inventing stuff; that’s not right; that’s not true, that’s not accurate.”

Such misinterpretations not not only limit our understanding of our own roots, but also give credence to the notion that certain cultures are “backwards”.

“Historically speaking, imperial countries that colonized countries in Africa, Asia and the Americas, have taken the treasures of those countries, the soul of those cultures, and brought them out of the country and used it for whatever purposes, to advance their own status as an imperial country,” says Begonia.

“Oftentimes the stuff is brought out to promote the stratification of culture as being superior and inferior and so they put these artifacts in museums and say, ‘This is the arts and crafts of primitive or savage people,’ all under the guise of scientific inquiry and historical documentation but in the overarching context – it’s used basically for propagandistic purposes. Often times, they’re not complementary or noble goals.”

Thankfully though, with the efforts of those at the Treganza Anthropology Museum exhibiting a collection from Armand Voltaire B. Cating, who is half Ibaloi and half Ilocano and other international collections from around the world, we can all appreciate a piece of our heritage that could have been lost forever.

“For me, this exhibit is great because it’s owned by Filipinos,” says Begonia. “Filipinos are using this for the purpose of educating Filipinos as well as other people of the beauty and grandness of Filipino culture.”
And what a beautiful culture it is. – PDM

See this article,"Carriers of Tradition" in Philippine News. Click here.

Wednesday, March 10, 2004

The Chinese and the Amish

By Philip Dominguez Mercurio

I THINK she was studying Organic Chemistry. It could have been that.

You could tell by all the chemical reactions she left on her yellow legal pad.
Agnes Lau sat in one of the benches in the Java coffee house, cuddled in her Tommy jacket while spending time spinning her black pen, swinging her foot precariously back and forth underneath a shaky wooden table.

I forgot what I was doing… maybe looking at the computer screen, typing up one of these articles. It wasn’t important now. She wanted to talk.

She had just come from New York after visiting her folks and was telling me about her time at Ground Zero, her trips to local shops in Brooklyn, and her experience with the Amish.

Amish in Brooklyn??? “Can’t be”, I thought – she must have confused them with the Orthodox Jews.

So I told her that they weren’t Amish but instead could more likely have been the Orthodox Jews, like those in Israel. But little Agnes was insistent, continuing to defend herself, believing that the persons she saw were authentically Amish and nothing more.

Soon, we got into a 15-minute argument about whether or not the persons in question were from Amish Paradise. I argued vehemently that the people whom she had seen were of a complete different religious background and were more of the kosher variety than barn-raising type.

She rebuffed my argument, periodically mentioning the fact that they wore things all in black and kept referring to their braids as proof of their Amish-ness.

She even went into the motion with her hands, twirling her little hand about her earlobes as if weaves of hair would miraculously appear from thin air.

She was wrong, of course, but proving so would have been difficult. I knew I had to win somehow – but I just had to wait until she trips up and says something totally incorrect.

“I remember, I saw them… in the bus,” she insisted.

Aha! An opportunity had arisen. I knew I had her by then – but all I had to do was tell it to her delicately.

“Agnes, the Amish can’t use modern transportation.”
Argument over – I won but for some reason, by the look on her face, she still felt she was right.

I could be mistaken but I’ve noticed Asians have this strange fascination with the Amish. I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s their love for churning butter or their unbridled interest in barn-raising but whatever it is – it always seems to amuse Far Eastern folk – even my own mommy.

“Slow down, slow down,” she’d say as we’d sneak upon a moving buggy; its creaking wheels jittering upon the worn pavement while a diamond-shaped orange sign hung off its rear to ward off reckless drivers.

Approaching from the side, my mommy soon poised and readied her camera as we took a gaze at a world from another time.

Wearing their traditional clothing, weaved and sown by their own hands, they seemed unaware of the events that were about to unfold upon them. Once in position, my mommy, in Filipino jubilation, began ecstatically firing shots at the unsuspecting Amish, as if we were at some safari park with wild animals outside.

After firing a good four rounds, we left the crime scene in a hurry; the startled victims caught in the crossfire like wide-eyed goldfish whose only crime perhaps was going to ACME for groceries on the wrong day.

It’s pretty embarrassing watching my parent’s total aloofness to what would be considered acceptable behavior. Could you imagine what the driver must have told her wife, right then and there:

“Dear goodness darling it’s them Filipinos again. Duck, hide, quickly! Don’t they have anything better to do than take pictures of us?”

Well… no. If we’re not spending time taking pictures of ourselves, more likely than not, we’d be forced to spring our joy upon other innocent ones we come across.

But seriously, how would you feel if you were walking down Irving and a bunch of non-Asians in an old Ford Pinto came up to you screaming, “Hey look. It’s them Chinese people,” and start blinding you with their cheap a-- disposable cameras, hoping you won’t kung-fu them to who knows where?

How about if you were window-shopping in Serramonte and someone stood next to you and went, “Hurry, Hurry hunnie. I’ve never seen so many Filipinos with Macy’s shopping bags before. Take a picture quick before they start running to Target.”

You know, I’d be hella pissed off, lest you try to capture my flat nose on film. And we wonder why so many Amish are packing up their mules and moving to places like Ohio – the exploitation of their private lives is just too much to handle.

As Filipinos, such ghastly exploitation should ring a bell in your historical recollection. Exactly a hundred years ago, the World Fair held the St. Louis Exposition where hundreds of ethno-linguistic representatives from the Philippines were put on display to be treated with wonderment instead of being seen as people considered to be equal.

The bars which divided the civilized from the barbaric, the religious from the pagan, only helped cement the reasoning behind civilizing and therefore over running our country considered too backwards for its own good.

Obviously the Amish aren’t nearly in the same appalling predicament as those helpless Filipinos were, but the imaginary fishbowl still remains. With the pulse of modern America bearing down on them, constantly harassing their otherwise out-dated, commercial-free existence, being way different from the rest still intrigues the masses who routinely steal away a piece of their privacy via the pictures taken of them every now and then.

So have some compassion for the Amish of Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

Yes, they may be very different from you and me but for them to be hounded every time they make their errands is very awkward if not completely intrusive. You wouldn’t like it if that were done to you now, would you?

My cousin sat in the backseat watching a world of green pass by her window. This was her first time in the mid-South after being picked up at the airport but her curiosity seemed to be way ahead of her knowledge of exactly what lay here.

“You know who I want to see?” Tiffany Goh Dominguez said enthusiastically as tree after tree passed us.

“Who?” I said, a bit worried about the answer.
“The Amish!”

O hell no. – PDM

See this article,"The Chinese and the Amish" in Philippine News. Click here.

Wednesday, January 28, 2004

So Deprived

By Philip Dominguez Mercurio

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Meeting Filipinos in the desolate but still inhabitable parts of the American frontier is always a joy. An ecstatic feeling almost always electrifies the air once two flat noses cross, a feeling filled with relief in which those Tagalog words that have been withheld on the tip of one’s tongue for so long could be immediately drawn out into a sensible sentence and exhaled into the un-Filipino-touched atmosphere.

In the ensuing conversation, questions between the two newly acquainted parties usually hovers about the “Where do you originate?” theme, where immediately some kind of connection, be it more than just being both Filipinos, is searched for. Same provincial or dialectal affiliation is always preferable in such a type of situation.

Of course, one of the questions that routinely arises during this peculiar moment, is, “When is the last time you went back?” Now there are some who’d say, it’s been a while, sometimes spanning a few years to a few decades since they last laid eyes on the Pearl of the Orient.

Of course, because of the continuing immigrant nature of the Filipino American community, more likely responses would be attuned to the likes of “O, I’ve been there a month ago,” or “I was just their a week ago” or the even more audacious statement, “Not only were we there last week but we’re going back next month… no wait, scratch that… we’re leaving tomorrow night!” Well, yeehaw! Bring the kids and pack the Spam because Philippines, here we come!

In the melee of continuous rhetoric about who’s been where when, yours truly sits backs and listens. An uneasy feeling percolates in me when this question is asked of me for the only thought running through my mind upon hearing someone else rehearse their itinerary, is “You’re SO lucky.” This spate of envy may intrigue you but sadly, if I were to answer that question, my only answer would be, “Never been there.”

Yes… so deprived am I.

You see, in America, there are three categories1 of Filipino American children: There are those kids who actually grew up there and moved here recently, usually recalling the Philippines as some fading memory lost in the husk of a used coconut or under the shade of some guava tree.

Then, there are the kids from America who go to the Philippines and return two weeks later, two shades darker, looking bloated as ever after getting a pint of blood sucked away from the fu**ing largest mosquitoes that ever crawled on this here earth, all the while telling tales of being stuck in a jeepney for four hours while heading for the mall.

Then there’s me…part of a large contingent of kids who’ve never been there and as my current rate of neglecting my passport shows, may never venture there in the near future.

I’ve always wondered why no one ever focuses on kids like us: the inexperienced, the unacquainted, the unfamiliar. No one ever ask us how we think the Philippines may be like, how we think it may feel. For those of you who are either from there or routinely go back home, aren’t you a tad curious how the unfamiliar may think it may be like?

For example, my cousin believes if we go back to our province, rustic bamboo houses await us. I thought that was a funny idea and believed going back to our province would be more like entering a house made of aluminum siding or something close to that matter.

Now, I’m sure we both could be terribly wrong but realize, we’re basing this solely on how most people try explaining to us how the houses in this region that Max Soliven routinely calls “Ilocoslovakia” are like, which is: “It’s not like an American house.” Such a vague if not sketchy description easily tempts kids like us to think that any and every other type of house is applicable.

Even igloos are permissible in the fields of Pangasinan as long as our imagination allows it. It fits the “not like an American house” idea so well but maybe not the 95 plus degree heat.

IF ever we do enter our little barrio, I’m expecting all the local chickens and goats will be the first to greet us. Knock on every door and chances someone related to us will pop out, ecstatically thrilled to meet someone from America, lugging around their newly delivered boxes filled with freshly bought corned beef and hand-me-down, stateside Adidas sneakers.

We’ll suddenly be the talk of the town and everyone, not only the chickens and goats, will be the ones coming to greet us.

Later that day, we may have a big feast because of our arrival. We’ll be given a bulo and be forced to either to go out and execute one of the goats for a dish of kambing or to pick out saluyot from the flooded plain of rice paddies outside.

After pacing for 30 minutes round and round the barbed wire fences, having no success in hunting down a single goat, I’ll succumb to trying to take down easier pray like a rooster. Unfortunately being a city boy raised in the Sunset District, the rooster will smell my inexperience from my still machine-washed clothing and instead will attack me, forcing me to flee in terror and turning our feast into a vegetarians’ delight with diningding becoming our main course.

As nightfall approaches, we’ll shower in the normal, throw-me-a-tabo-way of washing up, pouring freezing water on our butts while a constant buzzing fills the air from the collective sound of mosquitoes ready to attack us from above.

Grabbing our kerosene lamps, we’ll head indoors, huddling underneath the mosquito net, in fear of not only the army of flying insects but also the anacondas and the aswangs that may lay hidden outside in the guava trees, which have tormented the populace for centuries and turned us into some of the most superstitious people in the world.

Now, I’m not sure how much of what I’ve just eluded to, has any bearing to what would be considered “reality,” but that’s how I think an experience in the provinces would be like.

If I’ve misinterpreted how life in the province would be like… then think of it this way. Our disposition is similar to the way some Filipino child in some distant province believes that everyone in California is either an actor or actress.

Obviously, their interpretation of the occupation of most Californians is incorrect but with the fact that a high concentration of actors and actresses reside here (with even our Governor turning into one), why they’ve come to such a conclusion shouldn’t surprise anyone.

Now there is a strange if not ironic twist to all of this.

Even though we’ve never been there, a good portion of us, Filipino Americans suck on any information about the Philippines just like some baby working on a rubber nipple, always having some idea of how it works but never tasting the real thing.

We’re the ones you’ll find learning the ancient arts of eskrima/kali, the ones you’ll see playing the music of our ancestors on the kulintang, the ones you’ll find writing column after column on topics that should be written about Filipino Americans but rarely get the light of day.

We, “Americans”, cherish our Filipino culture just as much as those Filipina girls or lolas, who watch American programming and one day dream about becoming soap–opera superstars in California.

It’s a strange if not sad truth which Llayda Felongco Punsal summarized by simply observing that many Filipinos from back home try so hard to become “Americans” while Filipino Americans try so hard to become “Filipinos.”

We’ve suddenly become the antithesis of our counterparts in the Philippines. Maybe we should switch lives at some point.

My fog lights motioned themselves thru the darkness, surveying what road it could find. The rain had ceased but a hazy mist still remained, much of it coming off the lake, with those final raindrops which have settled on the car, gingerly being pushed off, leaving a lasting shine.

As the car took on its final curve, it sped by at 75 mph, passing a stone sign, with the words, “Gateway to the Peninsula” etched in blue.

Yes, perhaps kids like us are privileged; privileged to drive our own car; privileged to go to good schools; in short, privileged to live in a country that we are all much better off.

But as I approached the intersection, where perhaps a good 1/3 of cars have flatter noses than usual, I can’t help but believe we’re still missing one itty-bitty-little thing.

Lucky you… - PDM

See this article,"So Deprived" in Philippine News. Click here.

Wednesday, January 14, 2004

Pass the Apron

Pass the Apron
By Philip Dominguez Mercurio

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Another cold December night and I am with only pot and pan.
Or maybe just pot, this time around.

Into it, the cold tap waters from the dams of Tennessee were aptly applied, nearly rounding up to the pot’s very rim, as a coiled furnace gleaming hot red was added from below. Moments later, the dried noodles were thrown in; its soaked self sinking into the very waters that it bathe in.

Along with that, came the packaged seasoning, adding a dash of color and an aroma only those familiar with this operation would know only to well.

Alas, two eggs were suffice enough for the finishing touch; cracked and opened over the bubbling waters below. With frequent stirring, enough time would have elapsed and the words, Tapos na would be raved with outward glee.

My mommy came to the kitchen for a look see. Noting the simmering broth boil, her face had neither the hint of interest nor the look of hungry anticipation stemming from it. Rather, she hugged me and ended with a simple if not logical statement: “Let’s go to IHOP.”

Hmmm… I guess Top Ramen isn’t good enough these days.

In the void which spans between Christmas and New Year’s Eve, one is left with only one choice once the Christmas leftovers you brought home from that last party have been wasted: cooking yourself.

Of course, if that only recourse doesn’t work out, then one has to resort to other emergency choices like going to places like IHOP at eleven thirty in the evening for a late night rendezvous with a couple of pancakes and some aging syrup.

As we enter the 21st century, Asian kids with a knack for the oven have waned enough that folks like me have even felt its effects.

Take this fact into account for example: Almost all my girl friends either have no experience in the kitchen or even worst, refuse to ply into one.

When posed with the very question of cooking for oneself, one of them instinctively exclaimed, “I refuse to cook!”; her steadfast gaze resembling that of Lucy Liu making her refusal sound more like an ultimatum than anything else.

Another girl just giggled at the thought, as if the idea never crossed her mind. I even explained to another one who happens to be a chemistry major, that cooking is just like doing chemistry, in that it requires mixing of certain substances under similar contraptions like a Bunsen burner for a certain amount of minutes.

She didn’t buy the argument though; rather contented with being the one just washing the dishes instead. O well… chemistry majors can be so dull.

Now for my Chinese and Vietnamese friends, taking a step back from the furnace of life doesn’t necessary mean the end to their culturally enhanced eating habits. I mean for years, Chinese restaurants, from mere buffets to high-class dim sum shacks have abounded so much so that you could smell the MSG from miles away.

And every Vietnamese restaurant you come across from those on Clement to here in Nashville seems to be carbon copies of each other from the store names to the very menus they handily use.

Unfortunately, for Filipinos like me, globalization hasn’t resulted in the acquisition of Filipino restaurants at almost every corner in the continental United States.

You’d be lucky to stumble upon one and sometimes you may find a Thai or even Mongolian bistro faster than some place holding our own food, which is sad considering the fact that I’ve never met a Mongolian before, even in a city as diverse as San Francisco.

For Filipino America, much of the new generation has now become dependent on those who have immigrated here recently for the best Filipino cuisine the Philippines has to offer. Go to Jolibee all you want but let me tell you, nothing beats the freshly made home cooking that your parents may come up with. No wonder why I’m actually happy when being at the airport for the flight back home to Nashville... I’m thinking about all the kare kare and nilaga and other specialized Filipino food my daddy is about to cook for me.

With that said, it shouldn’t surprise you then what importance Filipino food has on our very culture. Its very integration into our culture is as such that you can’t possibly talk about our culture without at least hinting at some aspect of our cuisine.

Cooking it has become something not only for the sake of our general consumption but also functions as a point of socialization for all Filipinos, where one could sit back, relax and pass around a 50 pack of lumpias and a bag of chicharon while gleefully talking about the latest tsismis that goes around.

Such integration could also be seen in many of Filipino jokes which seem to always encompass some aspect of our food, however vile or stinky the joke may be. Hey look, if I’m not mistaken, every one of my column pieces has dealt with Filipino food on some level.

So if Filipino food, in all its greasy glory, is somehow taken away, what are we left with? No more high blood-pressure perhaps but along with that no more socialization and most of the happy-go-lucky jokes.

Therefore, one could conclude that the very preservation of our culture rest on if we, the new generation, continue to cook our traditional food in the kitchen. Dependence on those from home could only go so far for once newer generations emerge into a Filipino-food less home; it’s more likely that these kids would grow up attaching lechon and balut to the realm of folklore and superstition or see it as something more likely to appear on Fear Factor than on their very own dining table.

How would you expect your kids to be running around the house, opening all the windows and closing all the doors frantically, if you are either unwilling or have no ability to cook the very tuyo that would have made that all possible.

That and many other wonderful experiences would have been sadly missed by our future progeny.

Fortunately, some of us have tried to pick up the apron when given the chance. For example, in my case, it’s actually not the time consuming part which hinders me from picking up the wok and stir frying a sweet plate of ginisa; it’s more or less just plain laziness which beckons me away from it. Perhaps I should reconsider putting away the Double Dash Super Mario Kart and picking up the spatula more often. It’d do me some good.

It was another day, another place and I was heading for the kitchen where another bubbling pot awaited me.

This time, Michelle Leary (who could quite possibly be the finest hostess ever since Monica of Friends) was the cook extraordinaire that day and was logically using her talent to entertain her guests, who at that time, consisted of only me. When she went by my side, I couldn’t help but congratulate her on her accomplishment.

Of course, being the sweet girl she is, she bashfully declined my praise believing that being this accommodating was to be expected of her.
Maybe next time, I’d advise her to add some cut up hot dogs to make her spaghetti more Filipino … but why spoil an already good thing.

The point is … we’re learning … and soon, kids from the Philippines won’t be the only ones closing all the doors in their homes. - PDM

See this article,"Pass the Apron" in Philippine News. Click here.

Wednesday, December 10, 2003

Que Serra Serra

By Philip Dominguez Mercurio

SAN FRANCISCO - It was another Monday, the 10th of November, in the year 2003. I was fiddling through the trunk, looking for some equipment: the digital tape recorder, the digital camera. Christine continued to sit in the car, twirling her pen while holding onto some papers. A bit of anxiety was in the air for… we’ve actually never done this before.

I and my crew, consisting of Michelle Leary, Melissa Jew and Christine Saddul, were going to start interviewing at Serramonte Shopping Center to take a first hand look into how Filipinos of the year 2003 have assimilated or acculturated themselves in the United States.

The wonderful stories that we would have collected, would have become material that would have been evaluated for submission into the Filipino American History Project (FAHP), a project founded by Alex S. Fabros, Jr. and Daniel P. Gonzales of San Francisco State University.

Not only that, but the stories would later have consequently turned into a series of historical looks into the Filipino-Americans of the 1970’s to now to appear here, in your newspaper, Philippine News, in order for the Filipino American community to share in the findings that we would have accumulated.

We arrived early... very uncharacteristically Filipino, of course... so as to extend our working privileges at the mall.

At the time, we only had working privileges which extended through the weekend. So, to be nice, we decided to come early, when the management of Serramonte was still working to get the extra hours “in writing.”

We could have easily walked into the mall and started asking questions about assimilation, with us already assuming that getting the rights to the weekends would have entitled us to the “common mall area” on other, non-authorized days but to show that we cared, we decided not to.

That would have been very disrespectful. I mean, the last thing we would have wanted was to have caused some kind of unnecessary incident... you know what I mean.

Michelle and Melissa were on their day off but Christine was with me and she was leading the way. Down the staircase we went, to the offices holding the management of the mall, her confidence in the good we were about to do, growing with every step of the way.

Soon, she was at the front desk, explaining to the receptionist our situation stated above that all we needed was simple approval for using the mall area that day and we’d be quietly on our way.

I didn’t feel I needed to talk, for I was already confident that there will be nothing wrong... I mean, this was only a little project about the assimilation of Filipinos in America... What could possibly go wrong?

A lady met us at the front desk and she ushered us down a hallway, leading us into one of their offices.

“We’ll get this settled shortly,” she assured us, as she walked out of the office. In front of us, was a pile of her calling cards with the words “Jami Miskie, Marketing Director” written on them.

I didn’t settle into the chair quite well, already in the belief that all we’ll be presented with once Jami Miskie got back, is a paper that I had to sign with the hours that we requested on it.

Jami came back but instead of having a paper to sign, she was a bit interested in something else. “Could we see the questions you’re going to ask our costumers?” she asked.

Since I held a printed copy of them in my hand, I replied, “Sure”. I gave them to her, not exactly worried what their bit of inquisitiveness may entail.

She started reading… and reading… and reading. Soon, it looked as if she was studying the paper, word for word. I was amazed at how inquisitive Jami was about every question that we had on that paper. She even had the audacity to ask us what the word “FOB” meant. We kindly explained to her what our community commonly knew that acronym by. She then kindly explained her familiarity with that word. Apparently, it was also a packaging term.

Now, it’s not like we were going to ask every question on that paper to every one of the patrons of theirs we fell upon. Those questions functioned basically as our notes, things that might be important to ask people.

But I had a strange feeling they were in the belief that we were going to use every one of those questions to all their patrons. She left the room, again... this time, holding the questions in hand.

Why they needed to know almost every exact detail of our procedure, I didn’t know but it’s then I began to get suspicious. She came back, holding our contract and questioner while giving us the look as if we’ve done something wrong.

“Is this in any way associated with a university?” Jami quizzed us, her question probing our very intentions. Like unprepared gameshow contestants, we sat not knowing whether a yes or a no would be the correct answer. Christine soon went up to the plate, politely explaining to her how this project related to our school. Wrong answer.

“Well… We don’t allow surveys here,” Jami told us bluntly. “So, I’m sorry… but we’re going to have to take back the hours we entitled you to...”

We sat back into our seat… practically stunned… not seeing that one coming.

Jami continued. “… and we should have never allowed you to use any of the previous hours we had given you,” she stated while taking out her blue marker, slashing the words “the Filipino American Experience SFSU” and writing the word “NO JM (her initials)” at the bottom of the contact, then handing the broken contract and our questioner back to me.

“Huh…” I thought. Well, first of all, this isn’t a survey.

You could strongly agree or strongly disagree all you want, but for the record, none of those expressions existed on that paper we gave them.

So I soon came up to the plate, explaining to her that the questions that we were asking weren’t anywhere near what is considered a survey.

“Well... we don’t want people soliciting around here,” Jami insisted, believing that by allowing us here, more solicitors will come.

Soliciting? What was she implying we were doing?

Their indifference towards any university establishment, such as San Francisco State, surprised me. So focused were they on the SFSU part of the discussion, I decided to turn the attention toward the other organization participating in this project… Philippine News.

“Excuse me… but I’m a columnist for Philippine News. And we’re trying to do an article about the assimilation of Filipinos here in America. I’m doing this for a story.”

She glanced over at Christine, as if to say, “Then what’s she doing here?”
I looked over to Christine then back to Jami, “And… she’s working for me,” I indicated.

I was part of the Press Corps anyways… and we were doing this for the paper (Philippine News). It’s not as if I was lying. I mean… I didn’t have my Press Badge on me… but I had the newspaper in the car with my adorable face in it, if they wanted proof.

Silence enveloped the room. Jami seemed unsure of herself. I wonder what she was afraid of? She just had to take me for my word.

Jami excused herself and walked out of the room again... leaving both of us to wonder what was happening behind closed doors. As Christine plucked out one of her business cards to make it part of “her collection”, I began to wonder what other excuses Jami and them were going to come up with to impede our way.

I didn’t have to wait long for the answer. Soon enough, Jami was back at her desk, explaining to us that most media outlets usually spend only about 10 minutes or so gathering information and then they leave consequently in due time, unlike our project which seemed to take up much more hours.

So I decided to go for the jugular… I explained to her where Serramonte stood within the context of the Filipino-American community of Daly City and because of their vital role as being the imputes of the whole community, it seemed only logical for us to spent a bit more time here than any other place.

At that moment, I had expected Jami to understand such a reasonable and sincere argument. Unfortunately, I was wrong.

Her rebuttal came out as quickly as I had ended my sentence: “Why don’t you just go to the Filipino Culture Center?” she fired back, emotionlessly as if what I had just said previously didn’t matter.

Maybe I was speaking another language. Shopping is our culture. Filipinos love discount shopping. For some of us… it’s our livelihood. You really expect to find more Filipinos at our Culture Center (which doesn’t exist by the way) or at Serramonte, the perennial magnet for all Filipinos looking for a little sale?

They might not have understood anything about assimilation or whatever but apparently they understood Filipinos’ voracious appetite for discount shopping… very, very well. In fact, Jami went into a small discussion about how they’ve redesigned the mall’s interior, from the benches to the fountain itself, with a Filipino flavor. It’s their way of showing they cared.

“Cared for whom?” I wondered. If she had understood the importance of our project, she would have realized that this was a great way to show they cared for the Filipino community. She must have therefore been referring to someone else.

Now, not to be totally unaccommodating, Jami did offer us the option of using their premises as along as the article I was writing about was something related to “shopping”.

Related to “shopping”? Was she saying that she’d rather me do a story about Filipinos’ giddiness to buy Tupperware for three dollars a pop at Target, than of a story about those same Filipinos’ invaluable experience in living here sa America? To my astonishment, Jami’s answer to such a question would have been “YES.”

To refute their insistence that the story had to be related to shopping, I decided to provide Jami with examples of stories that they had allowed before on their premises that weren’t related to shopping at all.

I told Jami that AsianWeek had done a story here a few years back and it wasn’t about shopping but about Filipinos in Daly City. And, as retold by Rodel Rodis in his column, Telltale Signs, here in Philippine News, Geraldo did a story here also and it was about… of all subjects: mail-order brides.

At first, Jami was speechless, caught off guard that their mall did allow other non-related shopping stories through their doors. But, by the way things were going that day I knew she’d find a way to counter my rebuttal.

“Well… that was the old management,” she said with a smile.

“We have new policies.”

Gee… I wonder what kind of policies those were. I soon realized I wasn’t going to get anywhere by arguing, so I choose to negotiate down to a level that they considered “appropriate” for working at the mall, deciding then and there that we would be happy to make due with just an hour’s worth of their time.

Still… Jami Miskie refused, saying simply “We’re so sorry.”

I soon began thinking… “Was there something else about me and Christine that made them decline our simple request for even an hour’s worth of time?”

Before I could ask that question, Jami stood up from her chair. A sense of not being welcomed here anymore was felt all around; even by Christine, who was already standing up, holding onto all her valuables, all ready to go.

Soon, we were outside, exposed to the cold air of Daly City. Perhaps the word “devastated,” would have best described how we looked. Our entire project hinged on having access to Serramonte and just an hour before, everything seemed on the right track.

Now we were faced with the prospect of failing Gonzales’ Filipino-American History Class, with all four of us likely to get a string of F’s and having to learn about the Manilamen all over again. We were stung really bad… as if someone had hit us with a pair of chanelas, right across the face.

I sat in the car, plopped my laptop onto my lap, slammed the screen against the steering wheel and started typing away. Christine spent time apologizing to me, believing that she was responsible for screwing up everything.

At the time, I had wished we didn’t mess up. I had wished me and Melissa worked on the interviews when we had the chance. I had wished this never happened the way it did.

But who am I kidding? As the glare of the computer screen illuminated my face, I realized that what Christine stumbled on wasn’t something to be mad about. What we’ve uncovered was exactly what we were looking for… an answer to how far Filipinos have come in being accepted in America… and apparently, it’s not far enough.

In retrospect, I guess Jami Miskie had a right to do what they did. I mean, it’s their mall anyways and they obviously had every right to revoke our privileges on the premises thanks to the little hold harmless agreement we signed which claims they have a right “to cancel this permit at any time and for any reason.”

But, o what a reason.... because we weren’t doing a report related to “shopping.” The reason was because we were doing a report about the assimilation of those in the Filipino-American community.

The reason was because we were trying to help the Filipinos now and into the future, learn about themselves and what better place to have done so than in the food court of this very shopping center.

Unfortunately, for the mall, a wonderful story about how Filipinos have assimilated into this country was a “No, No.” I guess they would rather have had us done a tabloid exposé about mail-order brides instead.

I mean… it’s their type of story… it’s shopping-related, isn’t it???

During class, Professor Gonzo usually says to us, “You get it. You get it.” Well, I got it all right.

I smell something really fishy going on... so smelly, that it actually makes tuyo smell good.

I guess I’ll have to bring some air-freshener. What do you think? – PDM

See this article,"Que Serra Serra" in Philippine News. Click here.

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Road to Rosales

By Philip Dominguez Mercurio

SAN FRANCISCO — A pile of fallen leaves meekly lay along the roadside.

They didn’t remain there for long for they were soon gathered up and thrown into the air, twisting and twirling as a car wistfully rolled by. As they spun round and round, its tornadic form started to subside as it drifted towards the dust-ridden sidewalk.

As the leaves commenced to rest, my mommy and I trotted passed them, again stirring those same leaves up and parting them in harmony in accordance with our very steps.

Naaalala ko nga nung six-years-old ako, me and my mommy would walk sa tahimik part of Golden Gate Park. From 9th Avenue we would walk; pass the Lake, pass the Tea Garden, usually underneath the cover of large cypress trees which at times, cut the sunlight into dazzlingly rays upon the park’s floor.

And it’s during these times of unique tranquility through the vast underbelly of the park, that my mommy found the time to bring up those ‘stories’ of hers.
You know those ‘stories’.

These are the stories about how life was back then: the hardships, the trials and tribulations, all packaged into an interesting but detailed tale which almost always involved one of the most universal facets that immigrants have used ubiquitously time and again to get their point across: their intriguing trip to school.

“You know, before…” my mommy would start, “… we had no electricity. We had no transportation. We had to walk miles and miles, many miles just to get to school. Me and your brothers… only had chinelas on and the road wasn’t paved… it was dirt road, dirt road.”

Simply put, this was the Filipino version of Little Red, Riding Hood, except instead of a little girl in with a hood, it was a girl with pair of chinelas and instead of going through the woods, it was going through all fields filled with bigas; a flat plain of bigas as far as the eyes could see.

She went on. “And when it rained… the road turned all muddy-muddy… and it’ll take longer just to get to school.”

And not only were these stories laden with dramatic audio, much of the tale was also graphic; the graphic usually being as surreal as they come.

“O... see that... see that therrrre… look... right there… see that…,” my mommy would say while pointing at her unshaven lower leg.

I’d look obviously at the imprint of a large gash the size of a quarter on her ankle that could still be seen to this day.

“See that… that’s from crossing those wire fences, and sometimes you’d get your skin stuck in the wiring and so it’ll scratch and scratch you… so that’s why there’s a gash there.”

EEeee... I don’t wanna see that. A nasty, ugly wound it would have been back when it was still nice and fresh that if I’m not mistaken, grew even larger, thanks to the maggots and stuff growing within the infected wound after enough time had passed of insufficient amounts of cleaning. Now I completely understand the importance of peroxide.

But apparently, just like everything else, all this is part of the whole story. Just like a horror flick, there won’t be any thrill if you closed your eyes.
“See that… that’s what I went through, eh,” she’d say.

“See now why you’re so lucky,” as her eyebrows moved upward in tandem, agreeing with her statement.

And that’s basically the gist of why she and many others like her go through these grueling and sometimes even awkward stories; to get to that simple if not irrefutable point: You’re luckier than we are.

And of course, the contrast of that with what I was literally exposed to, that being the vast beauty of Golden Gate Park, was drastic enough for even a little six-year-old like me to notice. Muddy roads that could swallow your foot, usually don’t happen in Golden Gate Park. Maybe during an El Niño season… but even that only happens every seven years.

And if that wasn’t enough to make their point as clear as day, there is a resounding belief that a little exaggeration never hurt anyone either.

My Uncle Rosalino, the younger brother of my mommy, seemed to have even more ridiculous stories about his trips to school that bears a closer examination for its truthfulness.

According to my close cousins, Tiffany and Pearla, they would recount stories that their dad told them of how he had jumped over cobras and other poisonous rattlers along the roads in our province of Pangasinan just to get to school.

Now who the hell jumps over snakes to get to school? Really now? Snakes.
I had to ask my mommy for verification of such stories but my mommy could only scamper out, “I don’t know what your uncle is talking about.” Hmmm…

To tell you the truth, I really don’t know where the truth lies within any of these stories. Most of the time, you’re pretty much stuck fishing out the truth from the sea of falsity which could take awhile.

But when you were a kid, you were never inclined to do such a thing.

You believed everything that was told to you,was the truth.

Just like the idea of Santa Claus.

It just made sense, even though years later, the idea of a guy going around in a red jumpsuit in less then 24 hours giving gifts to two billion children may seem a little absurd.

But this type of embellishment of the truth, where they are perceived to do ‘amazing’ things, has a strange but effective purpose. This was their own way of making kids like us look up to them, perhaps in demagogical way so that we’d idealize their lives as sort of magical in that even in such dismal conditions, their superhuman and enduring abilities were able to supersede it all. And so, since we didn’t have to suffer though what they had gone though, we, as “lucky” American-raised children, logically have to be thankful and achieve better than they have since we didn’t have to worry about cobras biting our ankles when we went to school.

Pretty much, it’s the old “shock and awe” idea in action. Just ask the Bush Administration. They know exactly how this idea works.

*** ***

We soon reached 19th Avenue which basically is a large imposing residential freeway that sliced this beautiful park basically in half. As we stood there, cars raced pass; many at 50 mph which was definitely over what the little signs that shivered along the roadside were claiming the real speed limit was. The light turned yellow then red… and after enough cars had crossed the red light, there was a cessation of activity along the roadway.
With the blink of the green, we started our own crossing; all the while as cars to the left of us, started fighting for space to take a left onto Park Presidio. This was the days before the timers, where one would know exactly how many seconds they had left before they’d get killed. So basically, there was just one rule: RUN.
As we got to the median, the lights turned to a shade of yellow. We continued to hurry across like a bunch of ducks on the run while the sounds of the cars were revving in anticipation of their green light of life.
And it’s during these times, I do wonder… “Are you sure we’re lucky… because as far as I was considered, you never had to cross 6 lanes of killer traffic to get to Rosales, now did you, mommy?” - PDM

See this article,"Road to Rosales" in Philippine News. Click here.

Wednesday, November 12, 2003

Care Not Stash

By Philip Dominguez Mercurio

IT started with a phone call.

My Grandma was holding the phone telling me that one of my aunties wanted to talk to me about something. What it was about I didn’t know but from the get co, it didn’t sound good. On the phone was my auntie, who was telling me about her ‘plan’ to handle her mom’s Alzheimer’s, which according to her was already way bad.

She explained to me her options and gingerly pointed out in the end that basically, “… If she gets to hard to handle… we’ll just put her in a nursing home.” A hint of a chuckle ensued.

Alarms bells started ringing in my forehead. Asians usually never talk in that kind of context. Whenever Asians mention the word ‘nursing home’, it’s either because you work at one or you actually own one. Not because you intend to actually use one.

If you’re wondering, the woman in question was Feliza Dominguez Sanchez. The person on the other line happened to be her daughter. I, on the other hand, happened to be Feliza’s grandnephew.

My auntie, at the time, was determined to find a solution to her mother’s problem on her own and after having seen her throw leftover vegetables into the backyard and upon learning that she had misplaced her dentures in the middle of the night, she was utterly convinced that the ‘disease’ was finally progressing to the point of ‘craziness’.

Of course, losing your dentures may have disastrous consequences, especially at 1 O’clock in the morning but hell, I’m sure my grandma will find them 6 hours later at the back of the television after watching some nice morning news on KRON 4.

But, apparently that didn’t matter to her. All in all, that and everything else was enough evidence to convince her that she had to do something drastic.

And drastic she went. Her plan consisted of bringing her mother to a state-of-the-art facility with other Alzheimer’s patients, where some of the most modern techniques in this field would be available to them and with time, if this all worked, the hope was that this would at least slow down the effects the disease will have on her cranial activity or just her memory in general.

Now, as nice as the plan seemed on paper, the plan also required my Grandma to move out of her house, leave everything she called home to the dust, and in effect, lose everything that she remembered.

Well, it’s been well over a year, since that plan has gone into effect.

My Grandma is supposedly having the time of her life, painting flowers diligently and according to her television escapade, making the most of herself at the facility.

But, apparently, her home away from home isn’t as welcoming as it was before and according to those handling the grapevine in my family, my Grandma has become intolerable to the point that she will definitely end up in a nursing home in the near future.

So much for the ‘plan’. So, why is my Grandma still acting up at her daughter’s place even when there happens to be so much attention given to her at the Alzheimer’s center which was supposed to relieve all these problems?

You could say that perhaps the treatment takes time and hasn’t exactly kicked in yet. Maybe. But, I think I have a much better, if not simpler answer to this question.

I’d say that though bringing my Grandma to functions like Arts and Crafts may seem helpful and/or entertaining to her and the staff in some respects, let me assure you… this is not her.

Like many before her, she is a product of the province; a world away from any of the melodic paints and what-have-you she is exposed to now.

Their appreciation doesn’t stem from the seizure of nicely applied brush strokes of a grimacing flower plastered onto some canvas for all to see.

This may work for older folk who lived in America, who as children touted their Crayolas with outward glee and happened to get most of their vegetables form under the quasi-lights of a supermarket. But this isn’t someone would grew up in such surroundings.

Her appreciation stems from being outdoors in the garden, where they are one with their plants, one with their ‘own’ vegetables, grown in their ‘own’ ground, in a place they call ‘home’. Being in the garden, raising their plants, gives them a sense of independence, telling them that that they are still fully alive and kicking, something that drawing on canvases cannot do.

And this concept doesn’t just apply to just my Grandma’s situation but is fundamentally grounded into anyone who comes from a “back home” setting.

Here. Try convincing someone who is Chinese living here in America all you want, about the latest data proving such and such is proven to work on such and so, but no matter what, that very person is still more likely to turn about to their local Chinese medicine store and rely on that old, true-to-that formula they’ve been using for centuries.

And however much you force them, they will still search out for their roots, and try as you may, they will never be pleased till they get exactly what they believe has proven to work for them, time and again.

My own Grandpa happens to be a testament of that statement. You could take him around the world, show him new sights and new adventures, but no matter what you do, his 87-year old senses still bring him back to the wonderment of the tomato plants in his front and backyard.

Still, it seems that even with all the grandchildren he seems to have, nothing truly makes his day till his out in the garden, tending his plants from sun up to sun down.

Truth be told, there maybe a lot that America may offer that may, in many ways, make many of our counterparts in our former countries of origin, envious with glee. But there is one thing that keeps us fundamentally apart form Americans living here… that is, the Asian culture that was carried over from there years ago and that continues to flourish here.

Even with all this though, my auntie seems undeterred, fully rapt in the belief that the use of hundreds of dollars on the latest trends in psychological technology would ultimately salvage any remaining hope of her mother’s sanity.

Of course, little does my auntie realize that she’s not fighting the effects of an incurable disease but of a culture rooted inside her mother that will never change her way of thinking and that will always fight in frustration for exactly what she believes her life was beforehand.

When it comes down to it, it’s her culture, not science that will ultimately solve her supposed condition. And sadly, since my auntie barely realizes this, she may end up throwing her mother into a nursing facility for all the wrong reasons. And that would be unfortunate.

As I pulled out from underneath the garage, I remembered watching as my Grandma Feliza was slouched over, with gloves over hands, tending to her plants.

With her straw hat placed promptly on her head, like those Asian rice paddy workers, she worked away, plucking at the foliage of one of shrubs in the front yard. As I looked more closely, I realized the shrub she was working on was dead already. I thought about telling her but I stopped.
I realized it didn’t matter. At least she’s happy…

And that’s basically all that matters. – PDM

See this article,"Care Not Stash" in Philippine News. Click here.

Wednesday, October 29, 2003

When Worry Equals Care

By Philip Dominguez Mercurio

SAN FRANCISCO — 4:20 a.m., the 11th of October, 2003.

Another early Saturday morning or really, really late Friday night.

Whatever. I turned off my headlights and moseyed my car up into the driveway, incognito. Quietly turned off the engine and went inside. Everything was a delicate operation. I mean, you didn’t exactly want to wake up anyone… if you know what I mean.

I fell into bed. Tired, I tried sleeping.

Footsteps could be heard above… then on the same floor… then the door creaked open.

“Philip, are you awake?”

“Hmmm… should I continue pretending,” I thought.

Nah, it’s only been 30 seconds... I ‘woke’ up and said, “Yes, uncle.”

My uncle stood at the door, his composure in a steadfast state even though sleep was upon him.

“I give you a warning. This is the last time this will happen. You follow the curfew at 12 o’clock. Understood?”

I actually was kinda surprised; in fact, more or less, stupefied.
“I’m sorry, uncle. I apologize. This will never happen again.”
The door closed and then there was darkness.

OK. So what the he** happened?

A culmination of irresponsibility, inconsiderateness, ignorance, insensitivity, and any other negative word with i- seemingly attached to it. That’s what happened.

Frankly, for an American child, born and acculturated within a society where children receive more leg-room when it comes to liberties and the pursuit of happiness, this may seem tough.

Mind you, I have turned twenty-one recently so even I, now having been awarded the ability to drink responsibly, should be able to do whatever I want, when I want to.

But even so, this happy-go-lucky policy that many American families participate in where kids are treated more like lost and found items that are only looked upon when needed, doesn’t cut it with those that are more Filipino in nature.

Unlike their more relaxed, carefree counterparts in America, Filipino parents like playing a more intrusive, “big-brother” approach when it comes to parenting — one in which parents act more like semi-Diyos, where, when it comes to family affairs or activities, they happen to be all-knowing and all-powerful.

The latter statement may be a stretch; but all-knowing indeed.

To wonder where you are, wherever you are at all times, is completely and utterly normal within Filipino inner circles and the idea itself, is usually not subjected to any sort of criticism.

This type of “big-brother” lookout, where almost everything a child does is monitored and worried about, is helped along by a unique network of chatterboxes that span from one family entity to the next, with information usually spinning through the continuous tsismis that routinely zips its way about the family realm.

In short, contact from relative to relative and therefore information about a child’s whereabouts is usually only a simple phone call away.

With such a vast networking in place, families could therefore easily relinquish control of their children to other relatives with ease and still be very sure they’d get the same attention and care that they were previous under. In a way, “elder” relatives turn into “hawks,” perched way up high above each of the respective “territories” where what was within their sights became representative of their corridor of responsibility.

Here whatever, or in this case, whoever lies within their range of sight usually becomes integrated into their custodial duties.

So, when underlings, move from one “territory” to the next, the “hawks” would naturally pass on their responsibility to the next one.

Ok, with all that philosophy out of the way, you could perhaps understand now why my Uncle Milo was so worried at the time.

In this case, it wasn’t that I was doing something wrong per se but it was the very fact that he had lost track of me during that time period that made his job as a “hawk” questionable.

If anything were to happen to me, the relatives in this very intertwined, interconnected, knit-tight family of ours, would question not the mouse that scurried away but the “hawk’s” ability to look after what was supposed to be his territorial grounds. In political terms, my uncle would have become the “fall guy,” so to speak.

Now of course, there are times when this kind of hawkish behavior that is played out within family circles could get really annoying, sometimes spiraling out of hand to the point where they have a tendency to flip out even after just an hour on the clock had passed of “not-knowing.”

My Auntie Auring tried calling the California Highway Patrol on me and my nephew years back after we’d mountain biked our way through the hills of Vallejo.

Apparently, by what little John John told me at the time, the reason why they were about to do so was that they were worried that “(he’d) get kidnapped.”

Then, there’s the time when my mommy did call the Tennessee Highway Patrol and there was actually a manhunt for me and the vehicle I was driving on the police frequencies. What was my crime: Not having a Global Positioning System attached to my a**.

And after thinking about it… perhaps I should have one. It’d make life so much easier.

Ok. So even I’d admit that sometimes they do this just cause of their nature to be intrusively nosy and the rush they get when meddling into other people’s affairs and watching their reactions to it like their own home-made Filipino melodrama but despite all of that, one must realize what advantages their worry-happy nature does bring in comparison to what it would be like if they hadn’t even worry at all.

For example, perhaps one of the major disadvantages of what is commonly referred to in America as the nuclear family, is their inability to monitor and stay on top of certain situations because their family are usually to small to handle the problems that may arise.

They have no third auntie to look after the kids; no grandparents to pick up the fourth graders from elementary school; no info whatsoever about the whereabouts of their teenagers from the annoying relatives they should have had in the first place.

It’s no wonder why, especially in a supposedly “highly advanced society” known as America, there could be found parents who’d say, “We didn’t know she/he was doing such and such.”

If only they had a bunch of titas and lolas who were hella nosy and worried about everyone else, then perhaps they wouldn’t have been so clueless.

I find it funny though that it took an incident such as the one above for me to appreciate how important this nature to worry is because technically, even I’m prone to being a worrier myself.

For example, paminsan-minsan Agnes Lau, a sweet girl who happens to be one of my closest friends, and I would stay out hella late sa coffee shop of hers.
Agnes happens to drive a little Integ which has a peculiar reputation of having a mind of its own, sometimes starting only when it wants to.

So anyways, after some late nights sa coffee shop, we’d spilt, get into our own cars and drive home but before I do that, I’d always instinctively wait behind her, watching sa koche ko with high beams on and everything until she’s all warmed up and ready to go.

She finds it strange; sometimes calling me on a cell phone to tell me that’s it’s OK for me to leave her there all alone in this semi-trustworthy neighborhood with that fickle engine of hers.

But little does she realize that I know better; that I’m concerned; that that very feeling of worry runs deep through our blood and will never ever go… no matter if you call to beg on a old Motorola to tell us to leave or not.


It’s not because we’re paranoid.

We do it because we care. - PDM

See this article,"When Worry Equals Care " in Philippine News. Click here.

Wednesday, October 22, 2003

Those Silly Photographs

By Philip Dominguez Mercurio

SAN FRANCISCO - Going through an old picture album is fun. Many times, I can’t help but laugh when finding pictures of my mommy and her brothers lined up together in front of some fountain somewhere in the city, all with jerry curls and sunglasses, making them look like an Asian version of the Jackson 5.

Then there are my cousins, all double-parked in front them in their strollers, usually crying, sad, complacent or completely clueless as to all the commotion about them.

In pictures where there are 40 or more people crammed into one 3 X 5, sometimes I’ll spend time trying to figure out where I am in a picture in a sort of “Where’s Waldo” but browner series, only to have my mommy come up to me and say “Oh, you weren’t born yet.” What a waste of a good 15 minutes, don’t you think?

I remember one time, while perusing through some abysmal stack of photographs, I came across one which seemed to stand out from the rest. There was my mommy relaxing on the bed with my cousin Vena and my Grandma Feliza in the background, sitting and enjoying their poses. They seemed so happy.

It’s then I started thinking... “Gee, I don’t recollect any relative of ours owning this house.”

Going through more of the stack, I realized that this was just one of a bunch of pictures from this unrecognizable house. The room, with its yellow and blue striped bed covers and wood furnishing, didn’t ring a bell in my little head.

But judging by their behavior though, one in which they were found opening and closing the blinds and showing off one of the teddy bears to the camera like Vanna White, you’d think that this house obviously belonged to somebody close to us or at least related to us. So, I couldn’t help but be a bit inquisitive...

“Mommy… whose house is this?”

She thought a little; her expression showing signs of confusion as well. But after a simple sigh, she figured it out.

“Oh, I know… that’s a model home,” she said with a guilty smile. “We were just
trying it out.”

“Trying it out?” I thought.

“You know... So we could send the pictures back home to the Philippines.”
Ah yes. The old gimmick returns. Go to model homes. Take a horrid amount of pictures. Develop them.

And soon, after a few days in air-mail, relatives in the provinces would think you have succeeded, considering the fact that your house is now lined with dry wall and your bedroom is all fancy-fancy.

Talk about the best deception ever thought of till the age of computer graphics came into full view. But, even in the twenty-first century, this type of balikbayan photography still works amazingly well, usually working its magic within both camps on either side of the ocean.

Now, realize that, this doesn’t just apply only to houses. Obviously, Filipinos knew all too well, there was more in America that could be exploited than just a bunch of pa class cushions on some bed.

“Wow. Look at your uncle’s truck,” my mommy said, pointing to one of the pictures. The truck, a Guamanian contraption capable of traversing the Himalayas without a hitch, was practically twice my uncle’s height and had tires to match.

My Uncle Joseph stood in front of it, his arms crossed in such a way as to suggest he owned the d**n thing. And if you didn’t clue in, the writing behind the photo (written by him, of course!) surely would have.

Of course, that wasn’t the only car in his collection. Flip though more Kodaks, and you’ll find this uncle of mine next to a blue car. Then a red one. Then a white one.

Was he a Superstar?

Nope. Not even close.

But of course, with all those ‘cars’ in his arsenal of photographs, you would have thought he was.

Now, you may believe this is just another example of a bunch of Filipinos doing their best to be as mayabang as possible with as many photos as can be humanly taken. And you could be right by presuming that.

But perhaps you’ll be surprised to find out that this picture-taking forma-forma isn’t just a recent phenomena created in response to the introduction of color photos.

According to the Filipino American Experience Research Project complied by Danilo T. Begonia and Daniel P. Gonzales, even before the War, Filipinos living in America, were already taking black-and-whites by the boatload, sending them back to the home country with the hope their fellow countrymen will see them thousands of miles away in all their glory.

Such pictures of foreign lands during the nineteen-twenties and thirties, where the sun was always shining and everyone seemed to have a shiny automobile, played a major factor in compelling hundreds if not thousands of the Filipinos to seek that ‘golden’ opportunity held within those little photographs.

Of course, such false advertising, shrouded much of the reality most Filipinos in America were really facing, which was much more on the dim side than the lighten situation the pictures that circulated from barrio to barrio seemed to portray.

And as such, many youthful Filipino adventurers were sucked into what they thought was their journey of a lifetime, only to find their dreams full of milk and lechon evaporate before their adventurous eyes once they reached the opposite shore.

Fast forward 80 years and apparently, we still find ourselves in a similar predicament. If one were to put a positive spin on all of this, one could easily say that such photographs are helping to encourage many back home to strive for more, knowing that they too can attain the fancy woodwork and the cuddly teddy bear if they just tried hard enough.


But, just like a boomerang, the negative spin of this always comes back to slap you and admittedly, in this case, it comes down to a simple story of the supposed ‘haves’ trying to impress the ‘have-nots’; making those without green cards envious because they’re not here enjoying the ‘homes’ of California living as well.

I wonder if those positives outweigh the negatives in such a situation. I mean, is encouraging jealousy within others so they could better their lives, justifiable?

Could someone rationalize a vice and turn it into a virtuous thing? Look, I dunno. You tell me.

Perhaps, Begonia said it best when saying that it just “depends” on many factors, like whether or not it’s economically safe to come here or not.

What’s sensible during times of economic boom may not be so once a recession beings. It’s a tough question that may not ever have a clear cut, toothy-fruity answer attached to it. Not everything is perfect, I guess.

As I grabbed my keys to head out the door, my little cousin Sean Melvin sped by me from the open doorway. I was about to close it but soon realized that my aunties we’re all outside in the front yard. My curiosity soon begged me to ask them of their doings.

“What are you guys doing?” my question stated; a question which obviously wondered what all the fuss was about.

My Grandma went to the door and stood next to me and soon, we both watched as my Auntie Norma, Auntie Isabel and Auntie Wilma stood around my koche for another round of pictures.

“They’re taking pictures with your car,” my Grandma Uding said blatantly.

“Your Auntie Norma is going to send them back to London to show to everybody.”

Yea. This will never end. - PDM

See this article,"Those Silly Photographs" in Philippine News. Click here.

Wednesday, October 01, 2003

Expedition into Filipino 101

By Philip Dominguez Mercurio

Now, I’ve gone to SF State for three semesters now but (surprisingly) I haven’t really divulged myself into the Filipino scene yet.

I mean, the Asian American History class I took had a good rise on the make-up of the Filipino-American community and how we came about, but that was basically a history lesson. Nothing really self-involving there.

So, here I went, adding a class with Daniel P. Gonzales at the helm. Our first assignment basically was, as he said himself, “Look up origin explanations (of Filipinos)… historical or mythical.”

I thought to myself, ‘What… historical or mythical?’

I mean, I’ve never heard anything from my parents or grandparents, telling me
of the mythical stories from back home that related to our ‘origin’. The mythical was usually biblically-enhanced, consisting of Adam and Eve getting created by the Almighty and after their glorious big bang, little brown people washed ashore in Manila Bay from some ark, two by two, and tada… the society known as Filipino was born.

Basically, you created your own ‘history’; let your imagination run wild, because obviously, there was no mention of Filipinos in the Bible.

Of course, there does exist to my surprise ‘our’ very own mythical stories. But, at least from my perspective, nobody explained anything to me, either because no one in my family cares about them or they were only spoken about on a need to know basis. And, apparently since I didn’t need to know, I just never knew. So, I have an excuse.

So, researching I went and no… I didn’t do the new trick, which is to simply go googling like many have. Instead, I went for the classic way of researching… wet-thumbing my way through pages of dusty information in a library somewhere.
Unfortunately though, the Filipino history section at my school happens to be hella small.

It consisted of only six rows of books, or technically less than a bookcase full. In comparison, Vietnam, a country with roughly the same number of people as us, has four bookcases full of historical information, many of them much more recent looking as well.

Of course, much of their book collection seems on the more graphic end with titles mostly attuned to the hum of “Home to War” to “The Killing Zone.” But I don’t care about that… no matter what, the bottom line is, they still got more books!

As I dusted though book after book, I realized that looking for the mythical part of our history was tough to find, especially since most of the collection divulges more into the historical context of our origins.

According to Wernstedt in The Philippine Island World, basically the first Filipinos were wanderers of some sort; kinda like the people you met who first get off the plane at SFO and are confused as to where to go next.

Who knows what made them settle in this lowland? Perhaps it was fate or maybe it was the smell of a pig struck by lightening that drove them here by the droves and in doing so, created the first Filipino barbeque. You never know. We could only speculate.

The first wanderers, according to Keesing in The Philippines, were a group called the ‘Austroliods.’ This race, noted to have the same racial strain as “the white peoples of Europe”, simply passed through; not very interested in the tocino and longanisa to follow. They missed out… terribly.

Next came the Negritos, noted in text as “dark-skinned frizzy-haired pygmies.” According to Alip’s text, Political and Cultural History of the Philippines, these little people were the first wanderers to have actually settled down, hunting and fishing as they went.

Wendsredt states that much of them, after crossing the lowland of Sundarland, were subsequently pushed into mountainous places thanks to later immigration.

The last of the wanderers, were the proto-Malays, who like the Negritos, were also ancestors of the Aetes, according to Agoncillo in the History of the Filipino People.

Keesing suggest these folks with straighter hair and having a more Mongoloid affinity were also hella short as well. He suggests that the only importance of these groups is that thanks to the mixing of blood, much of the Filipino race is short.

Great observation! Of course, it’s not like I couldn’t have realized that myself every now and then.

Alas, the ice age ended sending the Philippines into the archipelago state we all know and love. Proto-type kayaks soon raced for the newly formed islands for they were the new means to this water-bound land.

Indonesians were the first to immigrate here nearly 5,000 years ago, and according to Alip, came to the Philippines in two waves that were labeled just like blood type: A and B.

Type A were a tall, slender, well-built people, lighter in skin, who according to Keesing, were farmers, fisherman and ‘great’ warriors. So great was this group, that these ‘warriors’ set off to further lands and are now known as the Polynesians. Perhaps an image of the ‘Rock’ could be used as reference.

Type B, on the other hand, were physically opposite of their predecessors. As stated by Agoncillo, they were stocky, darker and blessed with a pair of thick lips and their infusion into the society has lead to the descendants of those who built the first rice terraces in the Philippines, which in turn has lead to Filipino’s never-ending addiction to rice.

The Malays or Malayans followed in their tracks, cruising in with their fancy sailboats from the seas of Celebes. As described by Agoncillo, the first migration had people who were influenced by the Indian culture which proliferated present-day Malaysia and surrounding territories at the time.

The second migration lasted for more than a millennium, starting in the 1st Century, as mentioned by Alip and their migration ultimately has lead up to the formation of the present-day ‘Christian’ Filipinos, like the Tagalog, Visayan, Bicolano, Pampango, Ilocano etc.

The last and final migration before the era of Spanish Colonization was the Mohammedan Filipino or Moros, who laid the foundations of Islam in Mindanao and Sulu which has lasted to this day.

It’s interesting to note, that while reading such history books, there seems to be an unwavering bias toward those people depicted with more European-like characteristics.

Case in point: When describing the two types of ‘Indonesians’, Agoncillo refers to type A as having a “sharp, thin face,” while type B were “stocky… with thick lips and large noses.”

Alip goes further, referring to the type A as having “aquiline noses, not paralleled among Mongoloid” and type B with a “thick, large nose.” As you can see, as with anything Filipino, apparently it’s all about the nose.

But minding the nose, notice how the depiction of the type A, who are “very tall, with European-like features” is given more ‘positive’ connotation to those more ‘inferior’ type B. This same bias seems to apply to depictions of the Negritos and Aetas as well.

Is this a case of subtle racism of the part of historians or just an instance of a horrible misunderstanding? You decide.

Anyways, that rounds off the historical look at our origin. And what about the mythological part?

Well… you’ll just have to wait and see. -PDM

See this article,"Expedition into Filipino 101" in Philippine News. Click here.

Wednesday, September 17, 2003

Feelin’ the Manongs

By Philip Dominguez Mercurio

COOKEVILE, TN — The smell of freshly cut grass. The purr of a humming engine. The utter release of pollen and other known allergens into the placid air.

These are the sights and sound that accompany the tonic, which is lawn mowing. Mention this concept to anyone living beneath the clouds in Daly City and bewilderment ensues.

“Lawn mowing?... What the h**l is a lawn?”

Here, in a city of paved driveways and close-knit houses, the idea of cutting
grass is lost to most. Kids rarely consider it as a chore and most households rarely have the time or the patience to practice it. And I should know… I grew up here.

But my mommy doesn’t live in this D.C. She decided to pursue occupation closer to the other D.C., Washington D.C. Just drive west and south for a few hours and you’ll find us.

This is the South, an area where lawns happen to be much more commonplace.
Here, land is easier to come by and rain is much more frequent in occurrence.

Combine both factors and you easily get a recipe for really big, green, strong lawns.

And my mommy should know. Recently, she decided to buy a ranch, which in layman’s terms equals a house with a large front yard and a larger backyard.

In order to mow such a large yard, a new lawn mower should definitely be in order, and boy did we buy a beaut. Given such a machine with such voracious power and brute force, you’d think you be able to take on the world. Or at lest your yard.

That’s what I had thought anyways… when about to take on my mommy’s front yard. I presumed that there’s no way a bunch of tiny, thin grass stalks, even with their numbers, would be able to stop a steel blade toiling at who knows how many rpm.

There was just no way. Of course, this was ignorance from the sweet city of Daly City talking. Like I knew what I’m talking about.

From the get go, a sense of invincibility filled the air. With a crank of the stringy thingy, a black cloud of exhaust emerged from within its bowels, and after ten seconds, the rumblings of a grass-killing machine were finally attained.

Just by holding the shaky handle, the incredible power of the rotating blade could be felt, producing shivers within communities of grass stalks that lay nearby.

I sent the machine on its way, like a pirate on a mission, hacking everything and anything in my way. Grinding through root stubs and the like, nothing seemed to be able to stop the inevitable melee that was about to occur.

The resultant carnage of shivered up grass and weeds thrown to the side, could have made for another environmentalist’s worst nightmare. But I wasn’t an environmentalist. I could have cared less.

For the time being, that sense of invincibility beckoned me to believe I was on top of the world. But that was short lived.

Entering a jungle of grass at knee-high length, the engine started choking.
Invincibility waning? O, I hoped not.

The coughing continued; the lawn mower acting as if struck by some grassy form of pneumonia. It was now spitting out grassy lumps; its days of unyieldingly hacking up grass into fine pieces now behind it.

It seems that trying to chop a highly dense amount grass was jamming the outlet where cut grass was supposed to spew out. O well, I thought.

Then it happened. In a somewhat momentous but expected climax, the engine finally cut out, dying helpless in sea of grass.

The power of steel was finally put to shame; the lawn mower’s blade, once a force to be reckoned with, now became just a lowly piece of hardware brought down by a torrent of steadfast grass stubs.

I felt like I was suddenly placed in a junkyard; expect in this junkyard there was only one piece of junk: a used to be new Troy-built mower.

The struggle with the lawn soon became nauseating. Piles of hay, once at the mercy of the twirling blade, now avenged themselves, accumulating around the lawn mower, becoming so daunting that its very thickness became an obstacle to the small tires that plied over it.

Not only was the tires effected by this gross amount of hay, but the blade as well. Hay sneaked themselves within corners and crevasses inside the machine, immobilizing the blade by jamming it with a harden mass of slush grass.

And the sun’s presence didn’t help ease the situation either. Its constant roasting effect added with an influx of moisture, created an atmosphere of sticky humidity that seemed to arouse an army of mosquitoes that swirled around in a dizzying performance that could either make one crazy or one’s arms bloated, all at the same time.

By the time two hours had passed, only a tenth of front yard had been cut. I rested my arms on the lawn mower’s handle and realized then that this was going to be a very long day.

Now, I could complain and whine all I want. I mean, spending all day pivoting a lawn mower so it could breathe just to realize that within four days, that same grass would have overgrown itself, seemed futile at best.

But if any good came out of this, other than a nice well-maintained lawn, perhaps it was the fact that this experience made me think about the Manongs of the San Joaquin Valley.

Unlike me, this was something which they faced everyday. There was no turning back to get a Pepsi or go to an air conditioner like I did to rest for 30 minutes to regain strength. Through hours of backbreaking work, tirelessly fighting both exhaustion and the excruciating heat, they toiled onward, unfazed by the situation which seemed more hellish than good.

And it may never mean anything to someone reading a sentence of it or two in a history book, but obviously this was an experience impossible to fathom by just reading.

Words would never beat the real experience of actually trying it out, working in the fields, feeling pure exhaustion take over. Just the fact that they were able to endure through it all, made them special in their own rite.

And, as beads of sweat flowed from my forehead, all I’m left to say about their very experience could be summarized into two words.

Simply amazing. – PDM

See this article,"Feelin’ the Manongs" in Philippine News. Click here.

Wednesday, August 27, 2003

The Ultimate Filipino Driving Machine

By Philip Dominguez Mercurio

10:10. I glanced at my phone and got up.

Another morning. Another day.

Change attire, pack the computer, wash face, and after that first minute, bam… just like clockwork, I was all ready to go. Turn on the car engine and drive away could have been added to that first minute, but there are always those uncontrollable snags that periodically come up. In case, it was breakfast.

“Wait. You must eat,” my Grandma said, hurrying to the kitchen once she saw me.
And like magic, she whipped out from the kitchen six lumpias. Well, what do you know? Where did they come from?

Don’t worry. They weren’t like thrown together; hustled into some abused paper towel and handed to me without care. Oh no, no, no.

They were actually carefully wrapped into a fine piece of aluminum foil, perched upon a folded up piece of paper towel to soak up the remaining oily grease and held together in a neatly made cellophane bag, in a fitting show of Filipino creativity only a Grandma would know, where practically and sensibility seem to overshadow the importance of presentably, hands down.

And of course, I couldn’t refuse such a nice bouquet of lumpias, knowing full well that passing up food in our culture, whether appetizing or not, is considered not only impolite but surprisingly rude.

It wasn’t as if I was carrying enough stuff already. Or that I was late. It’s lumpias for goodness sakes. Who could pass up lumpias?

As I pulled out into the street, my left hand concentrated on handling the steering wheel. My right hand, on the other hand, continued to do what it had been doing… holding on to my still hot lumpias.

Turning off from Refugio into Sycamore, I stopped at a light and removed a
lumpia from its concealed packaging, holding it hostage out the window, in a primitive attempt to cool it off and also to reduce any incidents of lumpia wrapper crumbs in the car.

It’s then a thought popped into my head, ‘Huh… this is hella illogical… there is no way I’m going to eat my lumpias, without having to first peel my hand from the steering wheel to retrieve one.’

Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to enjoy these great lumpias without having to wait until a stoplight appears or until I carpool with someone with extra hand to spare?

Then it occurred to me. I know.
Lumpia holders.

Just imagine, at the push of a button, a device that would emerge from the instrument panel, a smaller, lightweight pliers-like device that would latch on to your humble lumpia, grasping on to it in such a way that it would be tilted toward an attached oil-snatcher that would drain away any excess grease.

For a more deluxe feel, the lumpia holder could have attached heating pads, affording you the luxury of letting the lumpia sit for a while, crispy as hell, as your stomach makes final adjustments for its final descent into the netherworld. And if your Chinese and Vietnamese friends decide to bring along their rolls in your ride, don’t worry.

Your lumpia holder is one size fits all, flexible enough to accommodate any of those lumpia derivatives from the shores of the Orient.

And why stop there? I mean if P. Diddy could equip a Navigator with all the appointed luxuries for the ghetto superstar in all of us, I’m sure there could be a car made for the Filipino superstar in all of us as well.

With lumpia holders in, balut holders seem to be the only logical next step. Via an aluminum dial situated perfectly at your fingers reach, a pair of stainless steel cup-like devices would swing in concert from the center console, sweeping up your balut and cradling in its protective center.

Now, just set to boil and you’ll be instantly invited to a date with your duck-eating taste buds. And of course, if a little duck egg wasn’t your style, a boiled chicken egg is always plausible. Your choice.

On the run but find yourself smelling fishy as hell because your lola strangely decides to cook tuyo at two o’clock in the morning for a late night merienda.
Well, fear no more.

The Blower Sunroof is here.

Using state-of-the-art technology found only in hardware of military Apaches, this nifty contraption with its helicopter-like blades will send a rush of air screaming in and out of your car at Mach speed, just fast enough to speed your way to a Snuggle-feel freshness in no time flat.

Ever try bringing home some left over lechón from a party but instead find yourself fighting with relatives for the last remaining saran-wrap, holding your shish kebab and pánsit in mid-air between two leaky-prone paper plates.

Well, not to worry because underneath your backseats, lies something designed exactly for your Filipino traveling needs.

Durable, ultra water-resistant and impervious to stains, these exclusively made Tupperware containers could store anything your plastic-happy heart desires from your Auntie’s favorite adobo to that more interesting buro

Pack ‘em. Stack ‘em. Collect ‘em all.

They come in four exciting colors.

L.A. and back? No problem.

Your trusty containers could handle all the disorganized tonnage your relatives have a habit of bringing with them, keeping their food not only entirely mush-free but as fresh as can be while you slump into the passenger seat for a record eight hours.

And since your plastic containers are readily removable, requiring only a brief encounter with your neighbor’s high-pressure hose to return them to their original state, you could always rest assured that your relatives will never leave a mess.

Think your old car was the greatest piece of luxury the world has ever seen but couldn’t help but notice while squinting through the knobs of your steering wheel that your 12-way power seats still seemed a bit too inadequate for your shorter physique.

Not to worry. Now, with power front seats that enable you to increase your driving stature to the incredible height of two feet and fully automated foot pedals that use infrared positioning to locate the soles of your feet, years of sitting on telephone books and adjusting the seat all the way to the steering column could now be a distant memory.

If ever this combination of features were culminated into a singular car, this would make for a car that was made for the Filipino. And just add the portable in-dash quart-size retractable rice cooker, the hands-free karaoke machine and the optional mahjong boards and suddenly, you’ve got yourself a motorcar that could dub itself as the ultimate Filipino driving machine.

Unfortunately, reality sucks. Such a car still hasn’t come into fruition and the existence of one isn’t even a glimmer yet on the horizon.

Up to now, I’m still left with a car in which the only phat amenity is a little retractable cup holder that pops out from its hidden compartment in the center console, surprising first-time passengers unaccustomed to a little robotics.

Perhaps one day, when buying a car, we’ll all savor in the delight of checking the box with the optional ‘Filipino package,’ filled with all these interesting gadgets I’ve proposed.

And once that day comes, my lumpias will be so proud. - PDM

See this article,"The Ultimate Filipino Driving Machine" in Philippine News. Click here.

Wednesday, August 20, 2003

The Art of Trickling

By Philip Dominguez Mercurio

Peeing. Don’t be ashamed to admit it. For ages, this unique art form has been passed on from generation to generation. Its golden arches of high-octane rich urea, springing fruitfully from between the loins of countless millions like the geysers found in Yellowstone, eliciting the minds of hundreds of dreamers seeking that elusive feeling of total emancipation only felt thru the arduous release of bodily fluids.

Though many of you are familiar with the poignant background sounds of rushing water accompanying your release of contents, technically, the idea of squandering your unique yellowness onto some dejected puddle of water is still a relatively new phenomenon only commonly found in advanced states of toiletrism, like the United States.

Now, let’s say you took out your DeLorean and time warp yourself back to the Philippines in the 50s. After enough time has passed, you might have the urge to pee and you’ll naturally scurry for the nearest toilet but what you may find yourself aiming your yellow rainbow of goodness at is nothing but bare ground.

Well, what happen to the toilet?

Well, unfortunately for you, you didn’t end up in the Philippines. But as my daddy recollected to me on his trips with my grandma to Pampanga, the Philippines found along the roads leading towards the provinces roads notoriously known for their habit of turning their travelers legally blonde.

Apparently, unlike those cheesy rest stops along Interstate 5 where you pretend to buy the whooper with cheese but instead hastily sneak into the lavatory unnoticed, in the Philippines, the idea of sneaking into your roadside Burger King for a little trickle was unheard of. This is because, not only was plumbing nonexistent in such places but there also wasn’t any Burger Kings along the way to Pampanga.

But don’t let the nonexistence of Burger Kings fool you. Filipinos even then still had rest stops. Just without the toilet bowls.

If you don’t know, apparently old women in really long skirts were known to halt the bus completely in its tracks, get off in a timely manner, pick a nice spot of tick-infested grass adjacent to the bus, spread their legs to the wind and well… just go, instantly fertilizing the landscape beneath them, giving new meaning to the term “organically grown.”

Whenever I hear stories about the Philippines like this, I’ve always thought that would be a strange thing to experience, the sight of a number of old women all of a sudden peeing next to a bus, the idea of which could tickle and frightened the imagination all at the same time. Wouldn’t it be funny to have had that same experience?

I guess. But always be careful what you wish for. It may come true.

“O good lord,” I thought.

I switched the headlights of the car off. Thank goodness for the creation of darkness, or this would have been too blinding to see.

Me, my Grandma Uding, and my Auntie Rosing were waiting patiently in the car for my Uncle Milo to arrive from our trip from the farmlands of Stockton.

Apparently, the combination of my speediness over the ranges of Livermore and my uncle’s more conservative speed at the limit, created a space-time continuum long enough for boredom to set in. In accordance with the laws of physics, after a certain amount of time, such as a 70-minute trip from the heart of the San Joaquin Valley, there is so much a senior could do to hold off the urge to pee.

With the choice of actually holding it, applying those laws led one to a simple solution. Go pee now.

And that’s exactly what my grandma did, peeing away in full view of the emblem of my car, sending the liquid mess flowing beneath the hum of my car engine.

I guess she didn’t realize that peeing in front a vehicle with its headlights blaring at dusk, would definitely expose some inappropriate goods to any innocent travelers driving by. Whatever the case, I definitely wasn’t going to touch my tires for a while.

My auntie couldn’t wait any longer either, sneaking around to the front of the house where it was dimmer to do the same deed. Come to think of it, no wonder why the grass is so green in the front yard of my Uncle Milo’s house. They used a specially formulated fertilizer filled with all the required nutrients coming straight from the Philippines.

To tell you the truth, the whole of my family seems to have a fascination with the urinal side of things. My mommy loves peeing anywhere that’s feasible.

Even when there are clean, well-maintained bathrooms available for the sitting, like in rest stops scattered along Virginia Highways, the thought of actually having to walk there is quite intimidating; intimidating enough that she’ll rather resort to simply squatting next to the car and taking a leak, even with the presence of numerous big rigs lined up nearby.

I guess, the idea of someone catching them in their very private act, makes the peeing an even more exciting escapade than it already is. And if opening the door of the car and lifting her worn buttocks from the grips of the car seat risked too much physical effort, she was more than likely to take out from underneath one of the front seats her handy ‘pee-pee’ bowl, that she usually ‘borrows’ from her work, and do this deed indoors.

Apparently, nothing beats the thrill of peeing while lodged inside a car going at 60 mph while large SUVs zoom by.

As unhygienic as you may think they are, their sensible, go-with-the-flow behavior does bring home one positive feature with it.

In their ingenuity to find other means other than the neoclassic water bowl procedure Americans are used to, my relatives have not only been able to avoid the stresses that holding ‘it’ requires but also were able to manifest exactly what their foremothers have been practicing next to buses years before.

Now, kids who’ve never been able to venture to their homeland could, in very strange way, still experience how it feels to be in the Philippines by way of the habits many of their relatives continue to still practice.

So if ever you see any of your relatives marking their territory in a national park somewhere, just be happy and smile.

They’re not being unsanitary.

They’re just practicing their culture in unison. - PDM

See this article,"The Art of Trickling" in Philippine News. Click here.

Wednesday, July 09, 2003


By Philip Dominguez Mercurio

AN IDLE computer. Two months later, it remains in its stagnant state,
disappointed to find its mouse never yet being used to click on icons, its keyboard never yet being able to hear the riddle of fingertips along its keys and its plush screen never yet having contact with pupils for a sustainable period of time.

Technically, you’d think that if somebody was given such a computer, one that was brand new and highly advanced, filled with all the features one could ask for, that person would instantly be on it, using it to all its capabilities to further their work ethic.

Yeah, but this happens to be my mommy. There’s always an exception to those fundamental rules.

For someone who’s used to typing using only her pointer finger, the expectation that her company had that she’d being able to input progress notes directly into the network in a timely manner, was pure lunacy.

But the company tried to be inventive, trying a voice–recognition system that would make it possible for her to do dictations directly into the computer, without the need to type at all. The idea seems flawless except for the fact that her company forgot to account for one tiny factor that could make or break this wonderfully made marriage of Filipino and computer.

“Peer-pressure. Peer-pressure,” my mommy recited into the microphone.
The electronic message on the screen disagreed though, differing by just a tad:

Beer-pressure. Beer-Pressure.

“PeeRRRRRR,” my mommy said, this time with more clarity.
BeeRRRRRR, the computer insisted.

Well, what do you know? I guess that tiny factor wasn’t tiny after all.
Say hello to the Filipino accent, capable of causing one to incrementally curse out voice-recognition technology for its inability to distinguish the various combinations of consonants the Filipino tongue may throw at it.

For the Filipino, newly acquainted to the American shores, such an accent presented an obstacle that must be overcome, a hurdle into the society known as America, an apparent ‘original sin’ that those from back home were uniquely endowed with that must be cleansed though some form of ‘baptism’ of corrected pronunciation in order to be understood by the regular Joes of Americana.

Fear of the ‘accent’ rested solely on the belief that it was supposedly less advantageous for the one blessed with it, causing one to lose favor immediately when sent into an already fierce American job market where first impressions almost always made the difference.

So in fear was my mommy of its unpleasantness that she maintained a strict policy of never speaking to me in any Filipino tongue, whether Tagalog or Ilocano, to purge whatever effects her inflicted tongue would have on me, a consequence which has lead to the unfortunate disabling of my ability to speak Tagalog to this very day.

With so much hype over a mere difference between a few consonant pronunciations, it does make me wonder whether or not Filipinos have forgotten that their accent isn’t the only one out there. Widen your perspective, you’ll find that the ‘Filipino’ accent is apparently just another accent in a spectrum of accents, from Jamaican to Japanese, each of them filled with their own unique expressions, their own styles and mannerisms, even their own faults.

But even with this much diversity, the sad part about all of this is that Filipinos continue to look down upon their own accent negatively while all those other accents are slowly being accepted by the American culture in which they come in contact with.

The British accent has been embraced by Americans with reverence and homage, while the Aussie way of talking seems to have become a fancy way to spark interest in a bunch of crocodiles with bad tempers. Even the Indian accent, although in a more stereotypical fashion, has gotten some limelight in the American media forever locked in the archives of the Simpsons or found in cabbies on games like Grand Theft Auto III.

As much as all the negative publicity, Filipinos continually surround their own infamous accent with, chastising it as one of the most decrepit of them all.

Let me tell you from experience that I’ve heard much worst. If you’d only take a trip to the city known for its chessesteaks and hoagies, Philadelphia, you’ll find an accent that may make you want to carry earplugs handy.

I had a Puerto Rican classmate who had the hots supposedly for one of the girls in a region of Philadelphia known as South Philly. As great as she looked and as everything, she had that really prominent Philadelphian/Italian mice-like accent that once she spoke up, let’s just say my classmate wanted to do something that would pipe her down for the English she produced was unbearable.
In reality though, it really doesn’t matter whose accent is supposedly better or worst.

For the British person, who moved to America for some reason or another, the last thing their intent on doing is rubbing out their accent, replacing with the more placid American one.

For them, their accent is what makes him or her British in nature, just as British the Union Jack is or the Beatles are.

And Filipinos should do the same. I’m not saying you can’t correct your pronunciation when need be but you also must realize that ‘unique’ accent of yours is part of your culture, one of the things that makes you Filipino, just like your flat nose or your appetite for vinegar.

If you could make that connection, then perhaps finally the Filipino accent can also be accepted just like any other accent that must be dealt with as opposed to being one that must be hidden away and annihilated for hearing’s sake.

I know. So, some of you sound like Tony the Tiger when saying ‘girl,’ and maybe your kids like playing tricks on you by asking you to say words like “hippopotamus” or “beach,” knowing full well you’ll never get it right but when it comes down to it…

It’s your accent. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. Just be proud of it.

You’ll TANK me later. – PDM

See this article,"Accented" in Philippine News. Click here.

Wednesday, June 25, 2003

Unconsciouly Filipino

By Philip Dominguez Mercurio

A SNAP. A crackle. A pop.
Was this a Rice Krispy commercial?

Well, no. But, at least from my perspective, it da** well could have been one.
My nephew sat across me, shotgun, trying to control his laughter, for he knew what was up. My face was slowly turning into a timeless masterpiece of frighten madness and the reason behind why this was so could be explained by what I was seeing thru my rear-view mirror.

There, in the backseat of my coche, were my Auntie Auring and Uncle Peding, popping pistachios nuts into their mouths with unwieldy zeal, firing the unwanted shells into the air, sending them into the dark recesses of the floor matting that lay below them, never to be heard from again.

As ‘innocent’ as their actions seemed to be, it definitely got my attention in that very unnerving way. To me, a car is a precious commodity that must be cleansed precisely with quaint perfection for a smooth and pleasurable vehicular experience to truly be obtained. Of course, my relatives saw nothing of this wonderful concept, contented to ruin it with a bunch of munches and crunches of a few nuts.

Maybe it’s just me, but there are times when I do wonder if my relatives even realize that those seemingly ‘innocent’ things that they do actually could be perceived in not so ‘innocent’ way.

Another one of these ‘innocent’ incidents occurred along Monterey Bay amongst many of the rocks, which hugged the shoreline. My relatives were participating in the tradition Filipino way of picture taking, that is, where everybody takes a picture next to every rock and boulder that could be found, at every angle that could be thought of.

My cousin, Marc Craig, and me decided not to participate. We were rather contented to stand along the roadside. As we talked, a forest ranger resembling the likes of Smokey Bear drove up to the two of us. His interest spurred on by the activities of all the little people who had amassed themselves down below us.

Emerging from his green pickup, the ranger struck up a conversation with my cousin and it was then that he informed us of the signs posted along the shoreline telling of the penalty that would be levied if any person were caught disturbing the scenery in any way.

“You could receive a $500 citation if any animal is removed from the shoreline. None of your company intends to do such a thing I hope?”

Marc, lending a reassuring statement to calm the ranger’s worries, replied back to him, “Of course not, sir. I’m sure none of our relatives would try such a thing.” He paused to think then continued with a chuckle, “Well, actually, except one of our uncles, but I don’t think he’ll do anything like that.”

Just then, that very uncle of ours decides to beat the odds, taking out a makeshift glass cage, placing a hermit crab he found while forging through seaweed and what have you into it and started parading it around unabashedly to all the other relatives.

My cousin and I stood in awe, aghast at the odds that our uncle would have done such a thing at that very moment. What should have been just a routine questioning of our family’s photographic practices, has now turned into an altercation with the laws of the national park system.

The forest ranger stood more vexed than anything. His silence was a reflection
of his indifference to our uncle’s supposed impressive find. Using his hands, he signaled our crab-happy uncle to our very location. My uncle, oblivious to the situation he had placed himself in, obliged, heading toward us, holding his crab proudly in front of him, perhaps believing the ranger would congratulate him for his ‘great’ find. Of course, that the last thing he got.

“Do you have any idea what you’re doing?” scolded the ranger, his displeasure was more evident than ever.

My Uncle Obal remained silent. The lens of his sunglasses was the only thing, which protected him from the officer’s glare. Soon after, the ranger went on a 20-minute lecture about the penalty such actions required and the impact such amusement would cause had every person taken home a crab from the bay for their own entertainment. With every passing minute, the darker my uncle’s shades seemed to get, his eyeballs trying to hide from the ranger’s ire.

As much fun as all the crab jokes that will forever be leveled at this particular uncle for years to come, instances such as this, do bring up a fundamental question: Exactly what does it take to make, at lesat in my situation, my relatives aware of the inappropriateness of their behavior? Does one need to stamp a ‘no eating’ sign, like in my auntie’s and uncle’s situation, for them to get it or does it require some law enforcement agent, as in the case of my uncle, to finally frighten them into submission?

Whatever the triviality may be, I know I’m not alone in this. I’m sure many of the Nintendo-playing, lumpia-eating generation have found themselves stuck in similar predicaments, frightened at their relatives’ adept disregard of the American culture which they are exposed to.

Awareness of their surroundings, their locality, the very laws, whether apparent or just circumstantial, which may or may not be broken by their actions, usually is nonexistent, swapped instead for a happy-go-lucky, carefree attitude, where a naïve sense of the environment in which they were placed in ruled.

As American as some of them say they are or try to be, that visceral desire to be Filipino is still very much alive, still hauntingly present, sometimes appearing in forms which frighten, vex or just plain embarrass the hell out of American lumpia eaters like me.

Understandably, it’s not that my relatives intentionally try to be perceived in that unnerving way. They just happened to be caught along the crossroads where that back-in-the-day, culturally laid-back provincial way of living meets a more constrained, more conscientious American way of life.

And just like anyone else caught between choosing which road to take, they are more apt at over looking the road less traveled, rather going for the one their used, that being, that more Filipino trotted one.

So as my nephew, and me John John, started heaving the scattered pistachios shells of our relatives unto on to the street that faithful day in Vallejo, one thing’s for certain.
My relatives were just being Filipinos.

That is... unconsciously Filipino. - PDM

See this article,"Unconsciouly Filipino" in Philippine News. Click here.

Wednesday, May 28, 2003

On the Line

By Philip Dominguez Mercurio

WHAT’S your impression of the Philippines? Really, what is it? When you think of your country, don’t you think of a country filled with loving, welcoming people, always smiling as they open their balikbayan boxes, filled with cans of delectable spam and corned beef, many coming straight from the North Pole, also known as Costco?

How about the guy sitting next to you on the BART, gingerly pursuing the headlines, which he reads daily with latte in hand? What do you think his impressions of our country and its people are? Is it also of a country filled with spam-loving, friendly people?

Well, after you pick up the newspaper he happened to leave squeezed between the seats, what you may find printed in the headlines may not hold well with your initial impression.

“…US Combat Force... headed to the Philippines - A New Antiterrror Front” New York Times, February 21, 2003; “Bomb kills 16 near Philippine Hub” – San Francisco Chronicle, April 3, 2003; “American Among 19 Killed by Bombing in Philippines” – Washington Post, March 5, 2003.

Not exactly something that would conjure up images of people happily opening up boxes of spam now does it. In fact, if you happened to be more vigilant about this issue like I am, you’d not only never see the spam-loving side of our country, but find a much more disturbing picture being pieced together of our country, one that Filipinos are the least familiar with but the same one, the American press seems all too delighted to release for show and tell.

For instance, along with that March 5th headline, you’ll also find a photograph showing the skeletal remains that once formed the airport terminal in Davao City. If that image of utter destruction hadn’t got your nerves reeling, chances are, what you may find written on the billboard behind the terminal, will. In plain English, the huge sign reads for all to see, “Welcome to Davao City. The most livable city in the Philippines.”

Seems inconspicuous enough, right? Of course, it does, until you turn back to the foreground and suddenly realize that this once appealing sign has morphed into a nightmarish paradox. The sign makes the unsuspecting reader tinker with the question “If this is the most livable city in the Philippines, what could be in store for your average city in the Philippines? Could it be even worse?”

Shuffle through enough of the papers left on the BART and you may lay eyes on the February 28, 2003 edition of the New York Times on which you’d find two more pictures coming straight from our beloved country: one of them of a bunch of Filipina schoolchildren, giggling away in front of their elementary school, and the other, a picture of a lone schoolgirl walking alone in the schoolyard, smiling.

Seems so innocent, right? That would have been the case, if only the former image didn’t have in its mist, a Filipino marine handling a really big gun and in the background of the latter image, a basketball hoop, instead of what did reside there: lengths of barbed wire and three huge howitzers. Innocence lost? Perhaps. A place of spam-loving people living in safety and security? Highly unlikely.

Obviously, there is something peculiar about what the press is trying to achieve with this lineup of images. Their emphasis on ironic statements like on that billboard, the weapons in front of children aren’t just coincidences that just happened to end up that way.

And add all that to articles filled with statements like “amid widespread chaos in the region” or quotes like “They knew that it was dangerous over there… they were in our prayer sheet, week after week, for their safety,” coming from a Baptist Minister, all in reference to the Philippines, what you don’t get is the country filled with loving, caring people.

What you do get is a country resembling the likes of Afghanistan, where there is no functioning government, no intact infrastructure, where terrorist elements roam the whole of the country by the element of fear and the threat of the merciless AK-47.

This is nothing reminiscent of the Philippines I have come to know and love, the Philippines that my relatives bring back home in picture and video form. This is the Philippines the press has created, packaged and shipped, directly to American readers everywhere, one with a very ominous message attached to it, simply saying, “You could end up dead on the tarmac of your local airport. Your children could end up living a life in utter fear while attending kindergarten. You could become what this country has already become. You could become… ‘the Philippines.’”

Of course, in the media’s carelessness to prove just that, no consideration was given to those who might be effected by the dangerous hold such images may have on the American psyche already rocked by the events of 9-11, psychologically forcing them to think suspiciously about anything even remotely related to the Philippines and therefore the people who reside from there.

This could possibly be one of the reasons why U.S. officials were so insistent in labeling the Philippines on its list of terrorist countries and why those of illegal inclination no longer face just deportation but the even grimmer life of living behind metal bars, just because they checked the box, with the word ‘Filipino’ next to it. Suddenly, you’re especially flat-nose has special significance. No. Not the special ability to smell bagoong from a mile away but the innate ability to arouse the eerie suspicion of Uncle Sam wherever you trot.

The press may claim, they are merely just ‘stating the facts,’ telling the whole truth and nothing but it. That could be true. But if those same facts are manipulated in a such way that erroneously labels us as a country in complete chaos, filled with bombs left and right that kill innocent missionaries, Americans and our own people on a daily basis, to justify some agenda, in this case, the war on terrorism, then they are no longer just ‘stating the facts.’

What they are doing is messing with the very fabric that makes up our heritage, denying us the right to show our spam-loving side, and instead contented to replace it with something more diabolical where in the end the dignity of a proud people is trampled over for the sake of fighting terrorism.

This is the sad reality we are faced with, a reality that I can barely watch to see.

See this article,"On the Line" in Philippine News. Click here.

Wednesday, May 21, 2003

Just an 8 Letter Word

By Philip Dominguez Mercurio

AH, closed captioning. Yea, that scroll of white letters encased in black rectangles, which routinely zips across your television screen, telling you that English apparently has a written component to it as well.

I was casually observant of this television phenomenon one night, while watching the really nightly news and a story came up about Rodel Rodis.

Gee, I thought ‘He seems tanned and somewhat flat-nosed… perhaps they’ll mention his ethnicity.’ And to my delight, the reporter did mention his ethnicity as a Filipino. I instantly turned my attention to the closed captioning, eagerly awaiting the arrival of the word ‘Filipino’ on the screen. A second or two passed, and then a word appeared: Philippino.

My jaw dropped. Oh, the Horror!

Philippino! Philippino?!?!

Now, of course, I overreact all the time but this is insane. Philippino isn’t an ethnicity. I know what Filipino is and I know that Pilipino is just as acceptable as Filipino, but Philippino? That’s my name and -pino suffixed to it. It’s not a name. It’s not even a legal word.

I’m sure there are some of you out there who may say to me, “What’s the big deal, Philip? So the typist made a technical error on their part, a slip of a key. Hey, at least, when they showed that Dragnet episode the hour before, they spelled Ramon’s ethnicity correctly, as ‘Filipino’.” (Ramon was playing as a limo driver for some rich person on the show, Dragnet shown earlier in the program.)

Ah hum. But being able to spell Filipino right ‘once’ an hour before, doesn’t justify getting it wrong the next hour now does it. Even worst was the fact that this wasn’t just some other local station that happened to be out in the boondocks where Filipinos won’t even dare venture, like say Nebraska or Tennessee; this was an ABC Bay Area station, a station serving a population where 5 percent of the populous happened to be of Filipino descent.

Knowledge that this typist was lagging on the word “Filipino” reveals the present state of our community on the American landscape. It tells us that even in the 21st century, apparently being Filipino could easily be passed up as a spelling error…

… Or could be missed in it’s entirely. Clicking though the channels one day, I stumbled upon a photo op between President Bush and President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo on C-SPAN. Wow, I thought, two leaders of two great nations so, of course, I had to listen in. As the meeting progressed, President Bush blurred out:

“The Philippines have been great allies and friends for a long period of time.”

You could imagine my reaction to that statement. Total shock.

Philippines? Philippines?!?!

It’s easy to pass up what President Bush said but if you were as attentive as I was, you would have caught the problem straight on. He used Philippines in the plural sense of the word. Replace the Philippines in the sentence with any other country, like Vietnam for example, and the problem could easily be seen.

He wasn’t referring to the country per se. He was referring to the people of that country, the particular ethnic group that originated from that particular country. And in the world o’ Bush, our ethnicity apparently is Philippines.

I cringe in my tuyo smelling socks.

Lest he could have done was say the ‘people of the Philippines’ if he wasn’t sure and no one could ever call him on that one, but saying Philippines instead of Filipinos, especially in front of our dear President Arroyo, indicates his overt insensitivity of Filipinos, in the Philippines, America or anywhere else for that matter.

It is an insult to confuse an ethnicity with its country of origin, don’t you think?

People from Italy aren’t Italys: they’re Italian. People from Ireland aren’t Irelands: they’re Irish. And People from Vietnam aren’t Vietnams: they’re Vietnamese. And so goes for the people from the Islas Las Pilipinas. We’re not Philippines, or in Bush’s case, Philippiness. We’re Filipinos. Duh.

You may try to defend Bush, claiming that he just happened to formulate his grammar incorrectly because not many countries have the suffix –es attached to them and insist that he did get the word ‘Filipino’ right at the end of the meeting.

Of course, I’ll immediately rebuff the latter statement, gladly pointing out to you this was after both President Arroyo and a questioning journalist had already mentioned the word, ‘Filipino’ and discount the former claim by just saying, “getting your English mixed up in front of another foreign dignitary representing the second largest English speaking country in the world... is just very sad.”

The ongoing occurrence of incidents like these should send shivers trickling down your spinal column. This isn’t just about a bunch of people in desperate need of the assistance of the nearest spell checker.

Their continued misspellings of our ethnicity reflects not only the public’s indifference about the spelling of our ethnicity but surmises the lethargic attitude the American public seems to conjure up whenever dealt with issues relating to the Filipino community.

This attitude, whether born from an instance of xenophobia or just a blatant display of American ignorance, could be found worming its way about our community, often victimizing vulnerable citizens within our ranks too weak to defend themselves, like our Filipino Airport Screeners, Filipino Detainees, and our heroic Filipino Veterans, who did nothing wrong expect be of a different racial background.

It’s through their weary eyes and strained faces, one could see first hand the outcome of being overlooked, the anguish and shame that accompanies it, all caused simply by a refusal of the majority to appreciate our own identity when need be and would rather opt to spell it in error, guilt free.

Ignorance is Bliss. As the saying goes, apparently what you don’t know won’t hurt you. Unfortunately, the saying doesn’t go far enough to address those who do get hurt: those who are not known. And as far as I’m concerned, those who are not known are communities like us: Filipinos.

Yea, it’s just an eight-letter word. But you have no idea.

This is not a diary.

This is an eight-letter word.

Get it right. – PDM

See this article,"Just an 8 Letter Word" in Philippine News. Click here.