Those Silly PhotographsBy 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