So DeprivedBy 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.