HOME IN EXILE, EXILE FROM HOME: ROOTEDNESS AND ROOTLESSNESS IN DIASPORIC ILUKO LITERATURE
(Part VI of a Series)
Aurelio S. Agcaoili, Ph.D.
Salvador dela Raza, in Jose’s Viajero, says of the wandering Filipinos, those who go away to find some semblance of sanity and life elsewhere, away from the home country: “All of us, we do a lot of wandering, but in the end we have to return to where we came from. In a sense, that is what life is all about. An endless searching…”
Philippine exilic literatures are attempts, at times romanticized and naïve, to humanize and to come to terms with the requisite of space in a new territory against the remembered back grey of birth home and homeland.
The reclaiming of memory as active, continuing, living recollection of homeland and its meaning is a testimony to the empowering value of the exilic literatures such that territory ceases to be physical but becomes a psychic, epistemic, cognitive bridge to the here-and-now, to the everyday action of renewing a commitment to life.
The literatures of exile are symbols of what F. Sionil Jose, through his character Buddy dela Raza, call “a lot of wandering.”
There is that veiled hope in Sionil-Jose’s view of exile. He writes: “In the end we have to return to where we came from.”
But the question is: What kind of returning there is that is available to the exile?
Corollary to this is the question Is the return physical, territorial?
What if the return happens not in the region of one’s birth but in the region of memory?
When we return instead to the region of memory, do we ever return at all?
The phenomenon of exile, the “prolonged living away from one’s country” which the Philippine government euphemistically calls as migration is alarming. Government data reveals that more than five million Filipinos have become “global Filipinos.” Other data would tell a more numerous exiles: about eight million or ten percent of the Philippines population are in places away from the homeland.
The parallelism of exile between the Filipinos today and the Jews of the 6th century B.C.E. is striking, true, but the tragedy of the Filipinos is that many of those who went on exile remained as exiles, wandering aimlessly, taking refuge in the territory of memoria, remembering, mindfully remembering but in a way that is both plastic and plasticized, but not successfully re-membering, not successfully becoming a part again of the country of his birth. Buddy dela Raza’s tragic return comes to mind here; in a certain way so is Sionil-Jose’s Tony Samson in The Pretenders.
Bino Realuyo’s epistolary essay on the exile’s attempt to language his “voyage back” speaks of ghosts in the memory of every exile, ghosts the exile needs to exorcise. Writing to his “dear country,” he states the facts: “America has become a safe haven for many of us migrants. We have become part of a global viewership of fabricated and overwrought news that has diminished our national pride and intensified delight in our displacement.”
He narrates of his experience of lack of order in the home country: “My friends would be thrilled to hear that I was in Glorietta Mall when it was bombed. Sabi ko na nga iyo, eh, they would tell me, part accusation, part validation of the same fear that I had the moment I set foot on the hotel terrace in Malate for my first bird’s eye encounter with your capital city, my birthplace, the Manila I hardly know, the first glimpse of which frightened me—aluminum rooftops, sampayan windows, tagpi-tagpi walls—so that afternoon when my brother called from the states, I wanted to get out of here.”
From here, we are told of the exile’s other choices, alternatives that are not readily available to the more than 70 millions Filipinos who are left behind to eke out a living despite inflation the inflation rate that inflates everything but not life and choices and therefore possibilities for refuge.
Asked by his brother—an exile like him, perhaps a permanent resident or a citizen of the states—why Realuyo wanted to go home, he said: “Natatakot kasi ako rito.”
Home, for Realuyo, is New York City, “my city of steel and bricks, a global village of people who don’t look like anyone because uniqueness in America is a cultural prerequisite. It is a country where the individual comes before community.”
If for Calixto the “scarcities and inadequacies and the turbulence of the weather in Ilocos” are the reasons why the Ilokano leaves his homeland and becomes “an adventurer, a wayfarer, a voyager,” Realuyo romances the Manila sun after the rain (not Calixto’s “a long dry season of scorching suns”) and settles in the Manila of his birth that he hardly knows, the place, in his mind’s romantic territory coming back to life with the sun’s coming back: “The faces, the faces, the faces, I became one with the faces, all thousand of them that walked the streets every day enveloped in smog, the language I only spoke with my family was all around me so suddenly, music almost. I stood in complete awe of what was probably taken for granted by the people who live here: your Filipino people. Heavenly grace, what these faces and voices can do to a wandering soul I never thought I would end up feeling like this: a sudden sense of belonging as if in the few days I stood on your grounds, my feet have begun to grow roots. Around me, a graceful movement in brown.”
As in Alex Hufana’s sensitive portrayal of Filipinos in Long Beach, California, where he speaks of pain of being an exile, Yoro poeticizes a noontime experience in a strange land. Away from Sta. Romana where he comes from and in doing so extends space from the territorial and physical to the psychic, the extension made possible by the fusing of time and space, of the past and the present, of there and here: “I am sun rising/ In my coming over here if/ My being a stranger stands in the way/” And again: “I left Sta. Romana/ I brought along with me a dream/ Beyond misery and want.”//
The sacrifice Yoro goes through has its reasons, both personal and social: “I felt, indeed, I felt/ My sweat wetting the dust/ To earn a dollar to improve my lot.”//
Towards the end, the poet in exile comes full circle, confronts the distance separating Sta. Romana (his there-before) and Waipio Peninsula (his here-now), and writes not of longing but a consolation for visiting his homeland. The visit happens in the poem: “In exile: growth/ In sacrifice and faith: transition/ I have been buried in my poems/ The pen crying out made me rise again/ And then once again I saw Sta. Romana/ In the rising of the sun: hope and understanding.//” (To be continued).
Published, INQ, V1N18, Oct 2005