Part of my training as an ethnographer is to understand and describe culture and all those that go with it.
Culture for ethnographers is not something that is frozen in the past, like that penchant for the tinikling as the symbol for being Pinoy.
Culture for ethnographers is the dynamic and living ethos of a people: the way they have lived, the way they now live, the way they imagine themselves how to live.
The basic methodology of the ethnographer is participant observation and observant participation.
These are double frames as well—some epistemic frames through we are able to see the data of experience with kindness and objectivity, with consideration and human understanding.
So when I came to da Merika, I brought with me these tools, these instruments, these intellectual gadgets under the rubric of what we call scholarship and research. Or creative writing if you want some other avenues, perhaps a novel on exilic life?
The moment I set foot in da Merika, I started keeping a journal of my most important experiences as an ethnographer, each journal, with all the important entries, highlighting speakers and narrators, sites and symbols, language and silences, gestures and actions.
In effect, I allowed myself to take part in this play of the possible, the play of possibilities as the ethnographer in me was looking out for hints and clues.
Even at this time, with that training, I can completely recall important conversations and scenes, details and all. Prospero Covar the anthropologist and Zeus Salazar the ethnologist taught me well the rudiments of fact gathering and interpretation.
At the airport in Manila, you see the elementary distinction: those who are trying hard to speak the language of the Americans, with the false accent and the imitated inflection as against those Pinoys who remain unblemished by their exilic life.
At the lobby of the airport alone, you see the binaries—the extreme, the opposites. The TH—the trying hard--as against those who have remained rooted to the ground of their mind and memory.
On one end of the pole is the TH Pinoys, trying without much success to act like Americans; the only thing they can do is execute a bad playacting of the language of the Hollywood kind. Ha, their grammar is bad, unthinkable and here they come with their way of making their huge presence felt. You can only say: Son and daughter of a gun!
On the other end are the many Pinoys who have remained rooted to the experience of being Pinoys even in a faraway land like America.
The cultural categories come to you easily and you remember the books you have read about how to interpret all this clues and hints.
Spradley comes to mind easily. Covar. Salazar. Enriquez. All the teachers who have taught you how to be still, take your cues and commit them to memory.
Or jot them.
You remember as well the insistent nationalism of Lumbera and Melendrez, teachers and eventually colleagues who showed you the way to philipinology in a liberating way.
So the black organizer comes in handy—or the back of a mega lotto ticket you bought in a hurry in one dilapidated lugawan in downtown Cubao.
The ticket, of course, was that one shot to fame and fortune in pesos before you called it quits and say, hanggang sa muli.
And then, of course, like the rest of them Pinoys in the dreamland of dollars, you imagine the green bucks coming your way, welcoming you with open arms and saying, “Come, come, ex-future countryman and citizen come and take me for all you care.”
You jot down all the way the Pinoys who are more Americans than the way Americans conduct themselves.
Like the foreign missionaries you lived with for a long time, the lessons come in handy. The Pinoys who became clerics and were trained under the Italians became more Italians than the Italians. It was fake and phony—and affected.
You saw it coming even in your early years of cultural immersion, this pretense, this masquerade: “Ay, di na ako marunong mag-Ilokano, mag-Tagalog, mag-Bisaya. I cannot relate any longer with the language coz been here for quite a time. Speak English to me, please! It has become the language of my heart and soul, this English of my new country.”
In your younger years, this could have been the Italian language you were forced to learn during your spare time in order to communicate to the Italian confreres who refused the learn any of the languages in the Philippines except English.
You learned your Italiano mal hablado that way: by trying to come to terms with assimilation and its small truths and small falsities.
You did not think of Rome and the Vatican in your missionary life.
You thought of the village in Gumamugam you dreamed of going and spending your entire life.
When you get to America, you are shocked: many of the Pinoys who have made it here—“made it” is a loose term to mean they who have put in some amount of dollars in their pockets by dint of hard work or sometimes by good gracious good luck—and flaunt what have they come to. They make it sure you understand their good fortune by saying, “I will sue you if you do not deliver!”
You can only chuckle in disbelief. The first clue to the relational among the Pinoys in the United States is the change of language and the linguistic claim: “I sue you!”
The Pinoy acting like Americano adopts a litigious view of things: he sues/she sues to get across. This is the way for him/her to demonstrate his/power and to tell to all and sundry that he/she has arrived—that the pinnacle of immigrant glory is at his/her fingertip.
Another of those kind tells you in a less polite, less respectful terms that he/she will destroy you: “I have been here in America long before you came and this is my first time to be treated like this, you bagong salta!”
There is the binary, the great divide. There is where we can locate the two kinds of Pinoys in the United States.
Or perhaps there are others of another kind.
We get the ethnographer’s field notebook next time. They now number 30 in the two years he has been here.
Pub, INQ, V1N22, Nov 2005