HOME IN EXILE, EXILE FROM HOME: ROOTEDNESS AND ROOTLESSNESS IN DIASPORIC ILUKO LITERATURE
(Part 2 of a Series)
Aurelio S. Agcaoili, Ph.D.
I recall here what I wrote in that poem I wrote for Salquiao: “There will be a time little sister./ There will be a time for not leaving/ To search for the colors of the rainbow/ In the harsh word of the Arab boss/ Who desires you even at noontime./
“We all leave today,/ But a time will come/ For all of us to return to where we come from./ Our exodus will be but a part/ Of the poem we write of our freedom./
“We all take our leave today, true indeed./ But this exodus is temporary/ For the cleansing of our souls./ In between sobs, in there is the memory/ We are born with:/ The land, our land, awaits our breath.”//
What do all these multiple departures mean to our psyche and memory as a people? What is their place in the building up of a common narrative that will make us remember for always what have we gone through?
What do all these mean in terms of a rational and scientific attempt at locating the ramifications of the nation and the national?
If the tragedy of Flor Contemplacion were not a sufficient indictment of a government that has gone callus to the requisites of a just and fair collective life, the virtual Filipino communities beyond the territory of the Philippines continues to grow numerically and psychically as Filipinos abroad continue to invent Filipino communities of their own.
For the Ilocanos, these virtual communities they create are born of a continuum of memory: of a homeland of a past that remains part of a present—welcoming the memory in intimacy, in “talk and silence, nursing and neglect, urge and scold, link and cut off, weal and hurt…”
But then again this can be the same memory of anxious waiting for the tragedy of losing one’s home ground to stop as in Alex Hufana’s description in Long Beach, California, “where retired Pinoys go counting memories, many more memories than they can use, as they line up to draw their weekly rations distributed by the Southern California Food Bank.”
There is no sadder than to surrender to the dictates and tyranny of a new ethos, a new language, a new way of looking at the world and at significant human experiences. In his poem “Manipud America: Duduso a Panangipakita iti Nainayad a Magapuanan ti Demokrasia,” Hufana quotes Garrison Keillor who wrote : “To give up your country is the hardest thing a person can do: leave the old familiar places and ship out over the edge of the world to America and learn everything over again different than you learned as a child, learn the new language that you will never be so smart or funny in as in your true language. It takes years to feel semi-normal…”(“Ti mangisuko iti bukod nga ili ti karigatan nga aramiden ti tao; ti mangpanaw kadagiti karuaman a lugar ken agbanniaga iti ballasiw ti lubong ingganat’ America tapno sursuruen manen sadiay ti maiduma iti amin a nasursuro manipud kinaubing, sursuruen ti baro a sao a dimo maaramat a nalaing wenno pagrabak laeng a kas iti pudno a kabukbukodan a sao. Mabayag datao nga agpaungar iti uray gudua lat’ dati…”)
There is much sorrow as there is much joy in Hufana’s reflection of the Ilocano migrant’s condition in Long Beach. As if in supplication, more of a monk in his holy hours than a retiree enjoying the fruit of his labor, Hufana declaims:
Our numbers are increasing, O guardian
Angel, what more do we want?
We’re but different in the way we were formed
By fortune and the times.
And we set our own language right
Among foreign ones, though deep within
In their own terms we’re making to thank
Our daily chance to exercise
What we can command of moving.
Next we see the ritual of communing and remembering as the Pinoys gather to butcher a goat and make pinapaitan out of it. But the persona in the poem is not the everyday Ilocano migrant even if he longs for “goat meat/Eaten raw after sousing it/In the bile from fresh goat bowels.” The persona is an Ilocano migrant in touch with his own pain as a result of his leaving: “Feeling, indeed, so near/ Is the pain that’s left me/ Reaching what I reach to continue there/ As memory.”
The search for a place familiar and fair and free is an ever-consuming dream, a longing—and the search could go on and on in a manner circuitous and confusing, in a mode no better than the search for shadows and similitude and taking them for real. There is always an anguished cry here, a muffled pain, a silenced sob only the heart knows, the knowledge itself gnawing at what is left of country and home qua memory and what is left of memory qua country and home.
Hufana paints the pain this way: “Until given leave/ By our trusted God,/ It is for us to find/ Here the place lost/ In the Philippines.” This losing of ground, this losing of the terra firma of consciousness, of soul, of heart is permanent in memory and language and one can only go back, in reality, in the terrain of memory and language, thus the need to be brave, to be steadfast, to accept that in a land strange and foreign, one is alone. Yoro says of this, without despairing, true, but without much redemption except the redemption that comes from the promise of the morrow: “Mariknam latta ti gagar/ Ngamin ti riknam maililin/ Iti sabali nga indayon. (You yearn endlessly/ Because your heart/ Is lulled in a different crib.)
Prior to this, Yoro establishes the premise of the gagar (the yearning to return, to go back to where the ganggannaet (stranger) comes from. Yoro says: “Ket taliawen ti ilim/ Ti kinaubingmo a masirayan/ Ti bullalayaw nga itden/ Rissik ti init a bimmeggang/ Adayokan iti ubba ti kabakiran.” (And you will remember your birthplace/ Your youth the rainbow shines/ The glow given by the sun in ember/ You are now away from the cares of the forest.) (To be continued.)