5/16/2007

Balikbayan/Pagbabalik

A few upcoming events...

Pagbabalik(Return)
Bindlestiff Studio: work in progress with q&a May 24-26.
La Pena Cultural Center: full production Jun 14-16

Bayanihan Dancers at the Lincoln Theater, Skagit County, Wa, May 23

Pagdiriwang: Annual Seattle Filipino Festival Seattle, Wa, Jun. 9-10

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Last night, I read the last chapter of Vincente Rafael's White Love and Other Events in Filipino History for the paper I'm writing...and today I'm thinking about Balikbayans and OCWs, about cultural narratives and political shifts, about hero-making and hero-breaking, and of course, bringing it all around to personal identity.

Sometimes when a person goes out looking for answers, the answers are affirming of a deep, instinctive sense of something and that affirmation is positive and uplifting. Other times, the answers point to unsettled spaces, unaddresed hurts, and old emotions. The answers are important, just like the questions, since the answers often lead to more questions which hopefully leads to more answers and so on. But sometimes, even important answers are not easy to digest, to bring in, to incorporate.

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Balikbayan - it's about boxes of a certain dimension and a certain weight, filled with certain products and sent to a certain family or friend from a certain FilAm stateside. (Or should I say Filipino? Or should I say Pinoy? Definitely though, not someone US born). It's about packing up bag after luggage after carry-on with everything from Halloween candy to Body Shop lotions to nicknacks bought 75% off after Christmas, lugging them across the airport, through security (sorry, TSA-here's your orange alert), convincing the baggage clerk stateside the luggage is only a little overweight, convincing the baggage security Philippine-side the luggage is only household goods and nothing to be tariffed. It's about speeches and late night discussions in a sweetly old fashioned form of The Dialect from those adventurers who survived hardship and returned bearing gifts. It's about buying nicknacks specially crafted for tourists in order to help the economy. It's about having to say No so many times to requests for money or plane tickets or a job stateside, of having to swallow the reality that the US is not the easy road the Thomasites proclaimed, that the visitor is asked to confirm, so what little hope remains of Someplace Better can be kept alive.

It's cliche to ask "can you ever really go home" but there's no denying that question buzzing over and over like so many mosquitos at your ankles, pricking your skin, draining your blood, slowly and persistently.

But then comes the kick in the teeth - balikbayans were made, not grown, to create tourism and reinforce the power structures created by a dictator. And their association with The Dictator makes the balikbayan suspect while at the same time envied for their apparent priviledge. They become 'foreign' no longer 'bayan' townsmates, compadres, manongs/manangs. Instead they are merely vestiges of a long severed tie to corruption and greed. It's hard to be knocked off a pedestal. Or worse, being left with the grit and grime of the pedestal. Sort of like trying to find a vibrant city you thought existed, shining and beautiful just over the next hill, and finding instead, crumbled ruins infested with archaelogists looking for that last bit of Lost Treasure.

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But I over generalize here, what then of the personal?

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Here's what I've seen - my folks came in '56, both through military ties, married stateside, had two kids stateside, finished college stateside, worked in white collar jobs stateside, lived a relatively normal suburban, upper middle class life stateside, and are now retired comfortably stateside. They built a couple of houses in the Philippines, one to use when visiting and the other for an aunt who up until her 70s lived in a nipa hut. My oldest niece-cousin is in her second year of college, is looking into a career in education or medicine, is planning a mission-type trip to Ghana this summer, and doesn't really think either 9/11 or being part Filipino has anything to do with her or her life as it is now. My cousins for the most part have a passing interest in their heritage, but mostly just want to know about how to cook the food and remember how their parents remebered growing up in the Philippines during WWII.

Disconnection or assimilation? And why should it matter? Why does it seem to matter so much to me? Why do I want so much more?

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And I think about Old Coyote's story of the first indipinoy who didn't know whether to go this way or that way, Old Blood or New Blood. I think about the indipinoy who came to tell the Bainbridge Pinoys that he and his family suffered rejection from full blood pinoys and full blood native americans (nevermind the whole rejection from whites). I think about that Inbetween Space, how to write from that space. And I think about Barbara Jane and readership, and whether anyone could relate to being Inbetween, enough to drop envy, drop indolence, drop greed, drop pride, and just say, yes, this belongs with all the other discussions, all the resistence efforts, all the reclamation movements.

And I think about Ver's post on spineless blogging and I think how easy it would be to simply delete this once I'm finished so as not to cause discomfort/unease/defensiveness.

But sometimes things aren't as easy as one would think.

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