Que Serra SerraBy 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.