(Part VII of a Series)
Aurelio S. Agcaoili, Ph.D.
The exile who has the capability of seeing his experience more fully in the round understands that his experience gives him a comparative advantage and a new perspective about life, community, and relations.
In Sionil-Jose’s Viajero, an allegory of the Filipino people’s wandering in search of a better life the country cannot offer, Buddy dela Raza realizes tat an alien shore, a strange life that guarantees “a good roof over your head”—Buddy’s bribe to Namnama (read: hope in Ilokano)—is not necessarily what every Filipino wants.
Namnama boldly tells Buddy: “Thank you.. for asking me to live with you in (America)… I’d be lost in America. I feel empty there. We have some people—middle class. They left because they were tired. Not just this kind of life—but the petty quarrels…Some came back—they could not stand their kind of comfort either. But most of all, I think they returned because with us, here, they belong to a community, to a sense of purpose…”
We know how the narrative ends—Salvador dela Raza, the savior of the race—would die in the hands of the enemy, they who serve as agents of the perpetrators of a social system that drives away so many people to look for a space/place described by other exilic literatures as follows: (a) greener pasture; (b) paradise, Eden; (c) where one can scoop money; (d) where one can work to his /her heart’s content and gets paid fairly.
Except for that idea of the land of exile as a place where one can scoop money—the idea more legendary than realistic—the three other categories are of economic import. They serve as telling indicators of the material conditions of existence in the home country: those who remain, those who choose to stay behind, must suffer the consequences.
The idea of exiling assumes, however obliquely, that the Filipinos who are not upper or middle class have the same option as those belonging to the lower class.
The reality of migration and contracting work abroad negates that the options are open to all: the lower class exiles and migrants end up in the lowest rung of the production hierarchy. There are injuries of a class even among exiles and migrants and contract workers.
The exile’s injury as metaphorized is clearly seen in the following dialogue:
What? Rowland? Rowlando?
Can you spell your name for me?
T-o. P as in panda. T as in Thomas.
This culture of spelling your name comes as a shock sometimes for the newcomer.
Here we see shifting worlds, shifting words, shifting tongue—in effect, shifting ways by which we interpret the world, control relationships, negotiate our daily lives.
The author, Roland Tolentino, says: To go and live in another land is like remaining in bed after waking.
The big trouble comes about when the exile continues with his “Rowlando” even when he is back to the old country. Accent is class, status. Pronunciation is a marker for an exilic life. Losing one’s former accent inaugurates success.
The first snow or the first-anything the country of scorching suns will never be able to offer does not make the migrant quiet in his pain.
There is always the anguished cry, muffled at times by the winter cold and wild winds or the sadness of fall, but a cry just the same—a cry of longing for home. (“Ibalik niyo ako sa Pinas!—you have me returned to the Philippines!”)
One poet, Edgar Bacong, says it all:
None, there is none/ the beautiful city of the Swiss/ can do to help/ each time/ sadness grips me so/ each time longing takes hold of me/ this longing for the place/
where I grew up/ for the family I love/ for the friends and company/ I owe so much.//
I try to console myself/ by going away each time/ by going to the movies/ by attending concerts/ by cycling or walking in the forest/ by sunning and swimming in the lake/ by going to gatherings/ yet each time/ the memory keeps me company/ this memory of want and deprivation/ of family and friends back home.//
The reclaiming of memory as territory of the meaningful is an ideal and the re-visioning of territory that is unfamiliar and unfriendly might be, at a certain point, a fantastic dream, a kind of wishful thinking.
But the exile has not much choice once he finds himself in a new land with its new ways of understanding and doing things.
Even the enchantment offered by the new land is not good enough—is, in fact, a disenchantment as the mind wanders far back into the old country, into the home country, into the country of one’s genuine because primeval memory. The mind wanders freely into the terrain of this childhood memories, to the contours of young loves, to the topography of friendship and relationship.
The poet enumerates the enchanting possibilities the new place offers but the sad, grim, dark realities back home are enough reasons for banishing the seduction of enjoyment. The memory of a place, with its community and relations, haunts—and haunts the wanderer to the hilt, making him unable to see even a compromise. (To be continued.)
Published, INQ, V1N19, Nov 2005