HOME IN EXILE, EXILE FROM HOME: ROOTEDNESS AND ROOTLESSNESS IN DIASPORIC ILUKO LITERATURE
(Part III of a Series)
Aurelio S. Agcaoili, Ph.D.
While it is true that there is a certain signal of the deprivation one experiences in the ili (town, birthplace, fatherland), there is also the signal for small joys made possible by the story of a life lived in earnest despite the odds: kinaubing (youth), bullalayaw (rainbow), init (sun), and kabakiran (forest). The signals are nmenomic as well and they guide the memory to a revisiting of the terra firma of consciousness linked with an essential and relevant past in the homeland as the land of the remembering soul. There is enchantment here, there is incantation, there is song—in a sense, there is refuge: the place the soul and heart and mind go into for retreat, for withdrawal, for taking stock. These are all needed to face head on the demands of a new life lived under strange and difficult trying circumstances. Now the exile has to admit that in this new land and new time where he finds himself, he is plain and simple stranger and foreigner—veritably a ganggannaet. Amado Yoro’s homiletics works well here, the admonition not a warning nor a command but an aid to the nomination—the naming—of the exile’s exilic experiences. He says: “Ditoy gangganaetka, awan kadaraam/ A saranay ti biagmo, / Tibker ta nakem, / Ken talek iti pigsam./ Ti lawlawmo mangtiwengtiweng / Ti kinaagmaymaysam umaw-aweng.” (Over here you are desolate, related to no one/ Succor to you,/ Strength of your mind/ The confidence of your strength. /All around is overwhelming/ And your aloneness echoes.//)
In another poem, Yoro repeats the same sentiments of an exile but this time, he includes the songs of one’s youths as a testament to an undying eagerness to go back to a disso a nagbukaran (the place where one came into being). He writes: “Dinto agressat ti iliw/ Iti disso a nagbukaran,/ Iti kinaagtutubo/ A sublian ken denggen/ Nakaisigudan a samiweng.” (Your missing the place of youth/ will be endless/ One you will return to/ Where you will listen to familiar tunes.//)
The memory of this disso (place) is of the beautiful, without the warts, without the blemishes, without the trauma of living life where leaders lie and politicians and clerics argue for salvation of the soul from a position of convenience and comfort.
Amado Yoro the nostalgic and sentimental poet of exile must have sanitized and sieved his memory when he gave a listing of what constitutes an Amorosolo-esque ili that he misses so much, so much that he cannot anymore see the poverty of the Ilocos countryside and the primary socio-cultural and historical reasons why such poverty exists. The point here is that the poems he creates are poems of feelings and of the heart but the heart does not want to know more than what the eye could demonstrate from the visual and optical sense. While we draw so much of the emotions of exile in his lines that laments and remembers, he stops there and does not offer us a social criticism and therefore, in this sense, the poem stops short of offering a socially committed criticism of the foundational reasons for the collective misery of the exile and the countrymen who are left to wallow more and more in sorrow as the political leaders continue to display their wanton disregard of their obligations to the people and to the requirements of social justice.
Yoro says of linnaaw ken arbis a mangdigos iti bulan (the dew and the rain bathing the moon), ti daan a kampanario kadagiti malem (the old belfry of many afternoons). This imagined past which is the same imagined Ilocos, when not reined by its creators in exile is not anymore the Ilocos of Herminio in Griffith’s account of the anguish of a “voluntary” self-exile. Griffiths’ Herminio recounts: “My parents cried when I told them I wanted to go to Hawaii. They were sure that I would not return. Like a seed, they said I would root in a new land. Never would they see me again.”
Herminio’s voice reminds us of what life was then in the 1920s and what is it now. The tragic thing is that not much has changed after 80 years of searching and looking for the good life.
The seduction of Hawaii continues to this day—the seduction an encore of Herminio’s: “When the plantation recruiters came to our village in the 1920s and told us of the money we would make in Hawaii, we signed up—eagerly. Life in Bawang was difficult then. The rice harvests were poor. We had to hunt for edible roots in the forested hills. We had to cut down bananas (sic) and eat the stalks.”
The diasporic narrative with a critical understanding of the condition of exile is seen in Mario Albalo’s reflection of the experience of the 15 Filipinos who came to Hawaii in 1906. In 23 short lines, Albalos tells of the 75 years of exilic experiences of those who came to America to look for what another poet, Jeremias Calixto, called ganggannaet a langit (foreign skies) where the gameng (wealth) is hidden and where one finds puon ti bullalayaw (the root of the rainbow). There is, of course, a big trouble with the Calixto aesthetics of exile which Abalos was able to transcend, even with his sentimental—although not sentimentalist—way of accounting the experience of the 15 sacadas who first set foot in the islands of Hawaii to eke out a life there, one that was not possible in the other islands of the Philippines where they all came from.
Albalos’ “Ti Maika-75 Nga Anibersario Dagiti Filipino” (The 75th Anniversary of the Filipinos) attempted—and succeeded—to recover the pain of these first of the exiles of Hawaii by paint—and painting clearly with a calculated diction—the inhumanity of the experience. With the force of a historical narrative, he memorializes the supreme sacrifices of these 15 Filipino exiles. In this poem—and in other poems of conscience that Abalos produced, we see the same Carlos Bulosan declaring that the America that we know of is not a land of milk and honey but is instead a land of some milk and some honey and with its own share of many miseries.
In the poem, we see the 15 exiles embarking on the red earth of the opportunistic plantation owners, cowering in fear, getting united, fighting for their rights, sacrificing and sacrificing some more, transcending ethnic boundaries, taking root, gaining respect, gaining freedom, gaining equality of treatment, and then leaving behind their stories of courage, their legacy of teaching the opportunists how to be human once again. The story of the exiles’ struggle is the same story of their redemption. He weaves the narrative this way: “Iti panagsangpet dagiti adda durina/ Nagsanga iti allilaw ken diskreminasion/ Pinagramutda ti timek ken adal/ Sumangpatdan iti pedestal/ Bulon ti pamespes a ling-et ken dara/ Iti baet dagiti karit ken pagel/ Iti pitopulo ket lima a tawen/ Nawaliwen ti pakarukodanda/ Timpuaren ti bagnosda a bituen/ A maipatas iti amin a puli/ Kadagiti pumanaw ken umay a siglo.// (In the coming of those who endure/ Opportunism and discrimination branched off/ In the silence and study they took root/ On the pedestal they took off/ With profuse sweat and blood/ Challenge and obstruction put in/ Seventy and five years in all/ Their measure now coming clear for a view/ The star that guided them has risen/ Now they have come to be equal to all the races/ Of the centuries that come and go.//) (To be continued).
Published, INQ, V1N15 2005