Unconsciouly FilipinoBy 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