6/16/2005

Remembering Home

Hubby reminded me of another story from our trip to the PI in 1995. We had a layover in Osaka and while we waited we met this old manong returning home after visiting relatives in the US. He became very animated when we told him we were not only going to the PI for a visit, but that we were from the US. He asked us if we knew who discovered America, and said it wasn't who we thought, not Columbus at all. I thought perhaps that he was going to tell us about the first Filipinos who jumped ship and settled in Lousiana. Instead, he said "It was the Indians first. They discovered America." Then he went on to tell us that Americans didn't remember this and treated the Native American very badly in his opinion. He didn't think this was fair since the Native Americans were there first that they should have to live on reservations and be so poor. He made us promise not to forget what he had told us, to be more respectful of Native Americans when we returned home.

And I remembered how just the year before we had driven through the Pine Ridge Reservation, had seen the site of the Wounded Knee Massacre/Battle, had visited the sculpture-in-progress of Crazy Horse. The culture of the Northwest is still very tied to the First Peoples, with names of towns like Puyallup, Tullalip, Spokane, Seattle. I went to Lakota Junior High and lived where the Palouse Tribe grazed their horses. I know the stories of Coyote, Raven, and Salmon as if they are my own heritage, and in many ways, they are my first heritage because I have lived on this land for so long.

Later, when I sorted through memories like old photographs, I put that manong's story next to the story about the mangyan child, and wondered, would this old timer see this child the same way he saw the Native American? Would he recognize a member of the First Peoples of the Philippines? How they too are forced off their lands in favor of farming and commerce, and that to be so poor is not a defect of nature, but a result of prejudice and suspicion?

No easy answers to be found. Even Christ said that there would always be poor around us. I just can't help thinking that He also meant we should act where and when we could, to bear witness to poverty, and be an agent of change wherever we identify as home.

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