8/16/2005

A Book of Her Own

I have been reading/enjoying/challenged by Leny Mendoza Strobel's memoir A Book of Her Own.

I actually started with her first book Coming Full Circle which tends to be more academic in style, but soon discovered that where Coming Full Circle asked the question How do Filipino American's experience decolonization? A Book of Her Own gives the answer to What happens after decolonization?

I have this bad habit of sometimes jumping to the end of stories to find out if the heroes make it in the end, and I imagine that same impulse drove me to dive more deeply into Leny's second book before finishing the first book. I hope she'll forgive me.

I'm working through this idea of pagbabalikloob that Leny describes as a turning of the soul towards Home, a movement similar to the space I am looking into now - that turning inwards, of gathering what is outside of myself to see what fits/illuminates/augments that which is Within, the center of seven paths. Home, she asserts, is that space beyond the master narratives of Master/Colonized, white/color, civilized/savage, male/female, all the dichotomies created by the interaction/clash between the Western world and the indigineous world of the Philippines. This goes beyond reappropriation, for Leny, beyond bridging the gap between what was lost and what was assumed out of survival, beyond even the excavation of lost stories and methods to bring back connection with the land and its people. She writes:

I am blessed. If I need anything, it's the gift of healing I want for the rest of us. I want the gift of strong story as medicine for our souls.

Here she first acknowledges herself as not only separate from the master narratives that have burdened her, but also as strong and sacred. Her view turns outward, seeing in her own healing, the potential for healing within others. And that healing comes from Story, strong story, that connects instead of differentiating. In this space, there is no Other, it is instead communal, gathering in spirit, and for me, drums the necessity that is our existence.

My favorite poem so far in the book is The White Man in My Bed. I read it the other night while the day cooled by seawind and my children slept dreaming of salt and pepper beaches and broken sand dollars. I read it again, out loud to my husband, my own White Man in My Bed, and he laughed at the title, then, like me, was drawn into the story, the assertion of the poem, which so aptly reflected our experience.

But we transcend politics
Race, class, gender
Even religion
Even language
So do not stare at us.
You won't find answers here


And I'm sure he remembered like I did, the red faced woman in Umatilla, WA we encountered nearly two decades ago, the woman who obviously took offense that a woman of color and a white man should share a meal together, snuggle close and exchange the flirtations of young love, treat each other as equals. I often wondered if she thought I was overstepping my social standing, if she would have been more comfortable if I was serving the meal instead of eating it with my boyfriend, if she thought I should be in a nearby field, stooped and bent over the mint harvest. Perhaps she was of a mind that it was one thing for this white boy to have a colored girl for a plaything, but to parade her in public was just too much for her mind to handle. She stared at us through lunch, her face beat red and her lips pursed white. She stared at us as she left the restaurant and she stared at us as she got into her car and drove away. It was likely a miracle that she didn't have a coronary on the spot.

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