Here There Everywhere

Catching up on blog posts this morning, searching for an entry point into writing.

Rochita provides it today with the word Kayumanggi.

I don't know what Kayumanggi means, but it resonantes...Google reveals the word's link to myths but Barbara Jane's poem
love poem i seems to point to connection, deep soul connection between family. There's affection there too, great love and pride, which is where I think all good myth begins, a rootedness in relationships that extend between and beyond flesh and blood ties, and into the very bones of the earth.

This all bubbles in my brain with the reading I've been doing lately...Leny Strobel's book Coming Full Circle: The Process of of decolonization among post-1965 Filipino Americans speaks of identifying and releasing master narratives to break free from the affects of colonization specific to the Filipino heritage. The book is a beautiful blend of academics and personal narrative, and I was surprised/proud/happy to see that some of same books/articles I had research over the years are mentioned in the book. Leny is much more rigorous about it, creating a book that I had only dreamed about at one time. I had suspected there was a lot to be learned from looking into the indigenous philosophy of the Philippines in order to unravel my often ambivalent feelings about my heritage.

I struggle, though, with a mental language barrier that curls back into difficult memories of growing up. Reading Tagalog and attempting to use Tagalog to represent my ideas feels much like trying to type with just my big toe - long, laborous, and I'm just not sure if I'm getting all the layers of meaning I mean and that the words themselves mean. This is alien territory for me...I'll even go far enough to say hostile territory for me. Reappropriation of the 'master's home' is key to the decolonization process, but in working through the early chapters of Leny's work, I was struck with the realization that I am struggling with not one master narrative (US) but /four/ master narratives, each juxtaposed and causing a tremendous amount of pressure in my thinking.

The first two narratives are pretty easy to identify: there's the US as colonizer/imperial power and the Philippines as colonized. Deconstruction of the narratives begins with the understanding that the US colonial experiment was steeped in a move by the US goverment to become a world power and preferably a leading world power. It took advantage of various historical and political events and waved a banner of Manifest Destiny to rationalize the oppression of numerous cultures starting with the Native American and the African American, moving to a series of immigrant populations, and finally including Hawaiian people, Cubans, Philippines and parts of the South Pacific deemed necessary for one final push into the Far East.

The process continues with an understanding of great courage of the Filipino people in their rebellion against Spain in the late 1800's and their survival through the betrayal of the US during liberation, WWII, and the corruption that has marked the Presidency for several decades of the late 20th century.

But these are just glosses of the overarching narratives that take particularities in the individual life - the psychological pressure on the Filipino who carries, in his/her language and habits, the residual survival tactics of history, is something I have seen in the writings of Native American and Black American writing. In other words, it makes for crazy the way oppression affects both the oppressed and the oppressor.

The other two narratives are more difficult to identify, but they come from reactions to the actions caused by the other two narratives. They could be seen as subordinate, but for my own experience, they carry enough weight to be called 'master' in the sense of their influence. These two other narratives that are both constructed and emergent in nature, create a space for deconstructing the slave/master narrative, the victim/victor binary caused by the above narratives. These are spaces for reclaiming the positive of the US culture and to identify the price paid for over-extending the life of the survival tactics used by my Filipino ancestors. I'm deep in my head now, as Barbara would say, so now would be the time for a story...or perhaps a poem:

Market Song

Isn’t it strange
to hear your father’s language fall
upon you, the siren of sing-song phrases
you in? You struggle not
to hear the secrets, the bargains
of other Tagalogs laughing behind
your back.
You shrink before the howling ghosts and
you are nine again, standing
at the doorway, trying not
yo listen, to hear that you are the target
of their sharpened tongues and shaking heads.
You yearn to speak easily
the language they would not
teach you, to hear the gossip
to be a part.

You shift your hips and try not
to scuff you feet as you step along
the carved brick floor of the Market.
And you try not to turn around,
to pick at the words among
the white daisies and day-lilies they wind
into bouquets. Was that about someone’s house?
Or a party? A wedding! And the bride is
black and sassy. How sad for his family.
And you swallow
bitter, as you straighen your back, round your eyes.
Your head begins to bob and you hope
you look like someone other
than you are.

I wrote this poem in an attempt describe how it felt to be excluded from being Filipino by the simple and rational decision my parents made to not teach me either of their dialects. It was their secret language, one they used to scold me or talk about me in front of others in a manner where I felt judged. It was the language of their arguments about whether to send support back home to my father's family and the language of gossip about who did what when and where in the Filipino Community of Seattle, a community that my parents had very little patience for and chose to avoid as much as possible. Tagalog then became the language of my oppressor and each time I try to use it, I dredge up all those viceral feelings of rejection not unlike those first few months when I realized I took for granted that whites would always be the majority in my social/entertainment world, and that was something that pointed to a greater prejudice than I had imagined.

It is one thing to wake up one day realizing that you are neither white nor male (and that you've been thinking yourself as such for most of your life, thereby self negating by race and gender), but another thing entirely, to realize that you know next to nothing about being a Pinay not because of ommission, but because of violent oppression and exclusion.

It's been a ten year process (so far) of identifying and deconstructing narratives, and one I often wonder if I should abandon. But once the pieces are broken, lost, then (mostly) found, what is a person to do? Walk away? I tried that - it just makes for depression and thoughts of death. So I'm learning how to make mosaics, to put it all back together in a way that is meaningful for me.

But every once in awhile, something new breaks free from those four master narratives, and like the woman in Whitney Otto's How to Make an American Quilt, I have to sweep up the pieces, take them into the kitchen (where all good things happen), and start plastering the walls to make new meanings.

Survive and thrive.


Ernesto said...

I liked your poem. I like the way some lines can be read either individually or as run-ons. One question, in this sense: why do you begin all lines with caps even when they are run-ons?

Rebecca Mabanglo-Mayor said...


I cap lines (or at least used to, this is an old poem) because I don't know any better. I was once told that poem lines all have to begin with caps in order to be poetry.

I didn't think to change it when I posted it. I guess old habits are hard to break.

Rebecca Mabanglo-Mayor said...

There, I've edited the poem to change the lines so the run-ons are not capped.

One day I'll figure out the conventions. *wink*

rcloenen-ruiz said...

I find it interesting to read about how a second generation Filipina experiences her culture within the context of another culture.

I liked your poem, and the way you express your feeling of being shut out of your parents culture, because of the language thing. Interesting how language and culture are so intertwined.

Kayumanggi means brown, it refers to the color of our skin.

Please do write your memoir. I look forward to reading it too.