Zest and Zeal

The way to welcome the New Year is through zest and zeal.

We need them both, this zest and this zeal to seize the opportunity and to forge a future that is better than this year.

The current year has been one of terror and surprise in many respects.

There is terror during the many long nights of the year.

The war in Iraq goes on.

The rehabilitation and reconstruction of communities and peoples in many devastated lands have just barely begun.

The zest to sell democracy in many parts of the world continues to fire the imagination of the gatekeepers of "Democracy According to the First World."

The zeal to make it sure that the democratic way of life will be had by those who had been visited by despotic regimes continues to inspire those who believe that they have received the mandate to police other peoples and societies precisely because they are mighty and powerful economically and militarily.

The next year will carryover the events of this year and will bear the burden of remembering what has happened.

The year has not been easy for many all over the world.

Numerous lives and limbs were offered in the altar of war and human destruction.

Numerous hopes vanished like thin air in the many calamities that were both by force of nature and by reason of the greed of men.

The year has not been easy for many of the Asian Pacific Americans. So much work has to be done by this group in order to hit it right in finding their voice as a group with a clear and united vision of who they are and what they can do as citizens of this country. We have yet to see an APA representing us in the chambers where power is distributed and exercised.

In Hawaii, however, the Filipino American and Filipino immigrant communities kicked off the centennial of the coming of the sacadas in the plantations of Hawaii. We welcome this celebration with delight and pride. It is a symbol, more than anything, of the resiliency of the spirit of immigrants in this nation of immigrants, plus or minus the political repercussions of the term "immigrant". For from this "immigrant experience" and "immigrant history" comes the experience of taking part in the life of the nation and in the task of nation building.

But there are a lot of surprises as well.

There is this re-birth being inaugurated even as we have watched from the sidelines the sufferings and joys of people all over the world, even if sometimes we have had our share of the reality and ugliness of terror itself.

We say with zest and zeal, C'est la vie. But we say it with high hopes--for grace and blessing for the coming year.


(First of a Series)

By A. S. Agcaoili

Among the ranks of the socially aware and advocates of citizenship rights and duties of this country, they feel the need to advance the Asian Pacific American cause.

"Asian Pacific American" is a panethnic term that lumps together a multitude of languages, histories, cultures, and/or immigrant experiences of peoples from about 50 countries in Asian and the Pacific Islands.

The term is a fiction, a construct to account the otherwise disparate ethnic groups that have come to the United States for a variety of reasons and have established themselves in the country as citizens or permanent residents.

The term includes.

The term also excludes.

It includes a large geography of origins and pains borne by all immigrants as they scratch out a life in their new country.

It includes every Asian Pacific American's need to find his voice, discover his language to express that voice, and reclaim his mind that has been otherwise lost in the tangle of many minds and many thoughts in the new county.

In the Kallautang Notes, for instance, we have imagined the APA this way: "To speak about the APA without the double hyphen--one after the 'Asian' and another after the 'Pacific'--is to imagine America in a different light."

There are reasons for this imagination and re-imagination.

We go back to the Kallautang Notes: "In the coming years--with the immigration reform making headway for immigrants to have a fair share of the goods of the American earth--it is now becoming more urgent for this group of immigrants to find their voice and discover the possibilities and promises of that voice.

"The need is urgent--and it is grounded on the fact that the United States is a nation formed out of the need to address head-on the requisites of justice, fairness, and equality. It grew out of a war that was necessary to purge itself of its murky romance with that which was not humanly productive because its social institutions stifled the growth of peoples, communities, and sensibilities."

The term APA excludes--and it conceptually excludes the African Americans, the Hispanic Americans and the many European Americans that have also called the United States their home.

It excludes those groups of people who have benefited from the arrangements of political, economic, and cultural institutions at the expense of others--the same groups of people that cannot see fit the need to recognize, acknowledge, and welcome the others into the fold, those people who make it sure that the project to "other" other peoples must continue because that act of "othering" guarantees the maintenance of status quo.

But the United States cannot close its eyes on the insistent and sometimes pestering presence of APAs. At least, there is one now in the White House kitchen concocting the best of the menus for the Bush family.

In 2005, President George Bush proclaimed the month of May as the Asian American Heritage Month. Executive Order 13339 aimed to "improve the quality of life of approximately 14 million Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders" living in the United States or its jurisdictions.

The recognition of these racial minority groups in the United States by an official and administrative act dates back to the 1978 when, in a joint resolution, the US Congress established what it called as the "Asian/Pacific Heritage Week." The heritage week was supposed to cover the first ten days of May, with May earmarked to commemorate the coming of the first Japanese to the US in May 1843.

The US Census Bureau, in its "Facts for Features," reported of the reworking of the heritage week by splitting the "slashed" Asian/Pacific category into two separate and different categories. With this splitting came the "Asian" and the "native Hawaiian or other Pacific islander."

The 2000 census data are instructive.

Asians constitute 13.5 millions or 5 percent of the total US population. Of these, 4.6 millions are in California. Of the various states where the Asians are, Hawaii registered the highest number of Asians at 58 percent.

APAs, by nature, are recent immigrants, at least to the US Mainland, with the exception of the special history of Hawaiians and other Pacific islanders in Hawaii. Of the 14 million APAs, about 60 percent or 8.7 million were not born in the United States. This translates to 25 percent of all those who are foreign-born.

But the key here is this: those who are eligible to apply for naturalization show a preference to do so, with close to 5 million electing to become citizens as soon as they are eligible.

In terms of education, 5 of every 10 Asians in the 25 and above age group have a bachelor?s degrees or higher. This makes Asians as the ethnic group with the highest proportion of degreed individuals as opposed to other ethnic groups. That national proportion is less than 3 for every 10.

About 9 or every 10 Asians for the same age group are high school graduates. The national proportion is less than 9 for every 10.

Asians with advanced academic degrees such as masters and/or doctorate in philosophy, doctorate in jurisprudence, and doctorate in medicine is about 2 of every 10 for the 25 and above group. The national proportion is about 1 of every 10.

Of the foreign-born APAs, China is in the lead followed by the Philippines, India, Vietnam and Korea.

Asians who served in the military number 276,000.

Of the languages spoken, Chinese is the most widely spoken at 2.2 million, followed by Tagalog at 1.3 million, Vietnamese at 1.1 million, and Korean at a little less than 1 million.

Of the age distribution, those 18 or below comprise about 26 percent while those 65 or over are 8 percent.

For the native Hawaiians and other Pacific islanders, the 2000 Census gives us the facts below.

A little less than 1 million are "native Hawaiian and other Pacific islander or native Hawaiian and other Pacific islander in combination with one or more other races." This translates to 0.3 percent of the population. Of the total population comprising this category, a little less than 300, 000 are in Hawaii, thus making this State as leading all states in terms of the native Hawaiian and Pacific islander population. The Hawaiians and Pacific islanders comprise 23 percent of the population of Hawaii.

Only a little more than 27,000 speak Hawaiians at home in contrast to the Asians who tend to retain their ethnic languages.

Compared to the Asians, only 16 percent of Hawaiian and Pacific islanders age 25 and over are college degree holders; 82 percent of those 25 and over have high school education; and only 4 percent have advanced degrees.

At 33 percent, there are more Hawaiian and Pacific islanders who are 18 and below compared to Asians. In addition, at 5 percent of the population, there are lesser Hawaiian and Pacific islanders 65 and over.

With its highly educated and young population, the APA cannot help but become a force in the political life of the country. The Asian Pacific Americans for Progress (APA) estimates that there were a total of 2.5 million APA voters in 2004 or 2.2 percent of the national vote.

During the 2000 Presidential elections, the National Council of Asian Pacific Americans (NCAPA) estimated a voter turnout of 2 million or 43 percent of the national turnout.

Realizing this potent capability of the APAs to take active participation in the political life of the nation, both the APAP and the NCAPA put forward what the former calls as "a progressive agenda" and the latter its "2004 Call to Action: Platform for Asian Pacific Americans National Policy Priority."

APAP lists its goals as follows: "to develop a national network of APAs interested in progressive politics, increase our members' involvement in local and national politics, offer opportunities to network with progressive APAs at the local level, and increase our members' awareness of APA issues."

Its call to a direct involvement in harnessing political power for better ends is seen in the concrete in the goal of its APAP Funds: "to directly assist APA candidates who represent progressive values in running for local and regional offices."

Founded in 1996, NCAPA, on the other hand put together the blueprint for APA political program of action it appropriately titled "Call to Action." The Call, by 2004, has been endorsed by nearly 20 APA organizations.

NCAPA, like the APAP, recognizes the richness of the possibilities and promises of the APAs who come from 50 countries and ethnic groups. The APAs speak about 100 languages. With a high naturalization rate at 43 percent, 76 percent of APAs are citizens in contrast to 61 percent of Hispanics. NCAPA, citing studies from the University of California at Los Angeles, says that 80 percent of immigrant APAs become citizens.

The APAs today are regarded as the largest racial minority in California, with highest concentration of voters in California, Hawaii, Texas, and New York. In the whole of the country, the APAs are regarded as the "fastest growing racial group."

Realizing the need to enhance the voice of the APA, the 2004 Call to Action by the NCAPA pushed for the call to support for diversity and "for a multilingual America."

The 2004 Call to Action argues for the need to build upon all the language abilities of the peoples of the nation, including those of the APAs. The global market, the same Call to Action says, is not done in English alone but in the languages of the globe, in the many languages of the international market.

The Call to Action says: "America should take advantage of its tremendous diversity to become multilingual. Rather than limiting the use of foreign languages, it should build upon all language abilities to compete more effectively in the global marketplace."

The same Call to Action enjoins APAs to "support the concept of a multilingual America, including English Plus laws and programs that prioritize the learning of multiple languages, including English, by the American people."

(To be continued)


(Redemption tackles the life of five daughters and a mother. Two of the daughters are in the United States; the three are left in the home country trying as much as they can to live life in earnest and in the raw. All the five daughters carry with them the wounds that precede redemption: the wounds of life, the wounds of memory, the wounds of family, the wounds of relationships, the wound of discovering the rugged path to self-discovery and healing.

Redemption is an allegory of the Filipino condition, with the mother going nuts and out of her senses, losing sight of the time, losing sight of the healing power of forgiveness, and leaving the daughters to trek through life?s rough roads without her, without her blessing, without her word that ought to have soothed and salved them. The daughters, after forgiving each other, discover their common pains. They learn to forgive themselves and all the people who wronged them. In the end, they conquer their own private purgatories.)

(This is a page from the diary of Lagrimas)

Waipahu, Hawaii
December 25, 1989

I watch my first child as she sleeps, with her guardian angel at her side.

It is the early hours and soon my husband will arrive from his second job slaughtering livestock.

It is a job he does not like doing but he has to do because we have to scratch out a life.

We started with nothing. Just the birth of dreams, at least for him.

For me, I had to run away from it all: the memory of having lost so much in life, the challenge of getting on in this journey, the trauma of having to face poverty again.

No, no.

I cannot even think of counting rice grains anymore even as the stomach hunger for more of the promise of fullness. The life in the village was hell. And I am done with it.

If I have to go numb and amnesiac, I have to do it.

This is America now and with this child I intend to make the most out of this despair.

I look at this child again and Nanang comes to me in the air, her voice quivering in the wind and asking Tatang Steve to stop: Stop! Stop! Stop!

I could have stabbed that no-good man, he with his route to food by stealing from other people.

I could have gotten the bolo, not so sharp as it was, and with it pummeled his head with all the force of a ten-year old.

I was ten when the beatings got worse.

I was younger when the whole dark comedy began.

It had something to do with me as having come from the desires of another man, something I could not understand.

But the people talked, the people who did not know the meaning of grace and respect and dignity and all those characteristics that went with the people of the town, those who had to kiss each other?s hand, buzz each other cheeks, and greet each other with that perfunctory ?Good morning!??and in English at that?just so they can prove that they have learned their lessons on civility well.

In the village, we had none of those.

You cannot?your do not have?the luxury of greeting another when on your head are a big jar of bagoong that you have to sell cup by cup to those who believe that what you have is of the pure Dagupan kind, the one that had all the fresh fish and fermented with the finest Pangasinan salt, crystal clear and inviting, the one that Nanang used to trick us into eating our scoop of the rice, sprinkling our plate with the words, Asin, asin, makalulukmeg pingping. I could imagine it now, the ritual to our imagined fullness: Salt, salt, giver of flesh on the face.

With the words spoken, we go into a trance.

We get the spoon and pour water on the newly cooked rice and gruel becomes the best food we had ever tasted in our life.

And now, in Waipahu, things have changed.

I run to my work whenever I can even as I think of Nanang losing her mind.

Ditas says she has gone astray many time.

She goes to the fields, Nanang.

She carries with her box of everything that she owned: the tattered duanaig that she used to roll to cushion her head with the burden of a jar that she carried around in the other villages.

Her gait uncertain, she stumbles in the plowed earth and cries the cry of the desperate: Take me, take me, take me, Oh God of life. Take my life away.

I could hear her cry in anguish.

I could hear her curses.

I could hear her supplications.

I could hear her regrets.

I could hear her wishing that she were dead.

Nanang, I say. Nanang.

I look at my sleeping child, the rising and falling of her breast regular. She smiles sometimes. Her angel plays with her. Perhaps they are playing dolls.

I did not have any of those Barbie dolls.

I had rags that I would fashion into something resembling a person, the head a lump from the rags, the arms and legs just a protrusion from the longer rags.

I would let my doll sleep the sleep of the just, the contended, the one with all the food on the table, the one with the clothes of princes.

One Christmas time, we had nothing.

I worried about my doll.

Perhaps I was six at that time.

I had two younger siblings to take care of.

Rosario was wily, a trickster, more like a stepsister than a sister.

She wanted all the best for herself and since we did not have the best, she took all what she could.

I was the eldest and I could only watch.

Sarito was two at that time and did not took much except to wait for his share of the gruel that I would prepare from the leftover rice and water from the well. I made it sure that the salt with its miracles had to be sprinkled, the words of the blessing I had already memorized.

Go, eat it all, I tell Sarito.

Do not leave anything. The ugaw will sulk and he will not come back anymore.

Sarito would just look at me. At two, he would not know what the ugaw was.

I did not know what that was either but in my mind, I would conjure the images of small people, elves perhaps, dwarfs with their white bonnets leaving the plate and going to some other plates and there give the grace to the diner.

I was afraid of going hungry.

I still am.

And so I would call back the ugaw, call him by his name, and ask him not to go away.

Sarito would smile.

Sarito would open his mouth with gusto.

Sarito would ask for more until I had nothing to give him.

I look out the hut and I would surmise a long time yet before Nanang would come from her house-to-house trade of the bagong from Dagupan.

I would watch the lizards going through their six o?clock ritual.

They go down the bamboo poles of the house and kiss the ground and then they go up, climb the bamboo poles and make those sounds that called out the dark.

I thought that there was something in the coming of the dark.

I thought that mother would come home soon.

I prayed that Sarito would not ask for more of the gruel.

I prayed that Rosario would not pester me with her questions whether I was her sister or not.

At four, she was advanced for her age of the scandal that could make you question whether there really are guardian angels. I did not know what to believe. I still do not know what to believe until now.

I look at my sleeping child and I see the rare joys of Nanang on her face.

My child took after Nanang.

I let her suckle my breast even as I imagine the wall as the canvass of all that had been in my life in the Philippines.

One canvass is Rosario with her taunts, repeated and tormenting, accusing and judging: You are not us.

I heard my playmates say we are not real sisters.

I heard them say your father is Teddy.

I heard them say you are not supposed to live here.

The words are menacing and the gathering dark in Waipahu makes the words more sinister.

I imagine the Pearl Harbor being bombed, again and again.

I imagine my mind being bombarded by the same words that carried the weight of a
strange truth that I had long carried deep in my heart.

I had question about who I was in the same manner that I have questions about my being exile here in this land.

Oh to live in exile is most difficult.

In Honolulu, I had to acquire an accent in order to work in a bank.

I had to memorize the perfunctory greetings and the same perfunctory goodbye: Thank you for coming to our bank. Is there anything else that I can do for you today?

I had to practice the greetings in front of a mirror.

That was part of the training for an immigrant like me. Lose the accent of the home country. Acquire the accent of the workplace.

Roll your r?s.

Perfect your short a?s.

Put an s after the t to come up with the ts sound.

I close my eyes.

I tell myself: I will not work in a bank forever.

Perhaps I will wash the dishes in a restaurant.

Perhaps I will wait tables.

Perhaps I will get to become a nursing assistant and take care of the dying and the miserable.

I count the years. In 1985 we came to Honolulu as orphans. Or an aunt?s attorney passed us off as orphans and that they adopted us.

It took them years to do that.

And money too. Hard-earned, saved up.

We were sent to school and there learned to roll my r?s, catch on some Pidgin English, and sat in some Niponggo classes for my elective.

The years leading to our departure were lean ones. In 1983, they assassinated Ninoy Aquino, finished him off before he could walk any further to confront the dictator of the land who had declared himself the redeemer of the miseries of the people.

By twelve, I was hired off by Nanang to work for other people?s homes.

I would do everything to help my family. And I was ready.

Nanang would collect my wages months before so I did not have any reason to run away. I could not run away.

I took care of other people?s lives and home.

I never took care of my life and I had no home.

I look at my daughter now.

I tell her, we might as well love our being exiles. Here, we only learn to speak English well and forget all the memories of the dire days and we will be able to get by.

My daughter smiles. Her angel comes to play with her.

I stand up to welcome the gathering dark. Far away, I can see the twinkling lights that formed like waves toward the Pearl Harbor.

This is America, I tell myself. I remember Nanang as she stumbled in the fields of our broken lives.

I cannot return to the homeland, not in the same way any more.

I know I cannot return to same memories as well.

I open the blinds. Dark greets me. I close my eyes. A new day will dawn in these parts, this I know.

Dec. 24, 2005


With elections over in Iraq, we will see the institution of a democratic way of life for a people that had to go through a lot in order to purge itself of its temptation with a despot.

The elections are symbolic as this political act returned to the people the right to reclaim their place in the building of their nation and in the rebuilding of their lives in the midst of the war that continues to wreak havoc on their dreams and desires.

Books will be written about this war.

If Hollywood will not be reined in, films will dominate the big screen and will bombard us with conflicting images.

Various versions of heroism and betrayal will assault us and depending on who is talking, we will either nod in approval or simply say, big liar!

The whole of Asia will watch even as the latest statistics on the supreme sacrifice of American soldiers continues to post a rise beyond the two thousand mark.

Cindy Sheehan will not stop reminding us of the horrors of the war and the sorrows of mothers speaking out about the pains of losing their sons to a war that they do not approve of.

How many more limbs will be lost apart from the lives, we cannot tell. And we are only speaking from the American side.

There will be a renewed commitment to end terror and put an end to this huge war and its monster-like quality.

We will be reminded of other events.

Afghanistan is almost purged of its terrors now and we hope to see the same with Iraq.

A number of Asian Pacific Americans have taken part in this war, many of them seeing it as their own war in the same way that their nation saw it as a way to liberate a people from the shackles of oppression caused by the Saddam regime and its version of nation building, liberty, development, progress, and freedom.

We speak here of a generation of Asian Pacific Americans owning up this war on terror. It is their own war, the war they will remember for the rest of their lives.

The APA soldier will remember the fear of a people scared to death as the tanks of destruction rolled by in the streets.

The APA soldier will remember the long nights of waiting for ambush.

The APA soldier will remember the picture of death in an instant?death before them in its ugly mask and its equally ugly reality.

They APA soldier will remember their nation, this great nation of immigrants, exerting all it can to spread this gospel of democracy to other peoples and other lands, this very gospel that moved them to enlist, join the war, take up arms, and gather their hopes despite the doubts that things will turn out just as it was planned in the war rooms of generals.

The APA soldier will not be conscious of his ethnic identity in the warfront: he only remembers that he is an American and that he is fighting for this great American war against terror, against a despotic regime that did not have the boldness and daring to honor the basic rights of its people.

Even with the New Year, the promotion of good and evil will always be a subtle act, very tacit, always a play of signs, symbols, images, meanings.

Good will be vended the way the prospective consumers expect it.

Good will still massage the ego of the beneficiary.

The same thing will hold for evil: it will find its place in the hearts of men and women, reside there as if it were good itself, promote itself in much the same way good does, and argue for a cause greater than good.

Or evil will have to appear better than good in order to find its way into the consciousness and reason of a people.

We will see more of the cracks in the reasons for this war in Iraq.

In the United States Congress, there are doubts about its raison d?etre?and the doubts will intensify as the weapons of mass destruction are nowhere to be found and what have been found are the tragic images of lives lost and limbs sacrificed in the altar of war, in the name of democracy.

There will be a call to bring the soldiers home as some well-meaning Americans think of this incursion and excursion into Iraq as some form of a Vietnam.

There will be reconstruction and rehabilitation and rebuilding on both sides.

Iraq will rise up again from the ruins.

Iraq will find ways to regain a footing of its claim to history as old as the mind of man.

Iraq will re-member itself?it will commit itself to that act of remembering what has happened and why in order to offer a better alternative to its people.

The United States will have an obligation to help in the reconstruction and rebuilding of Iraq?and this obligation will entail both mind and money that will both sum up to another sacrifice.

Even as the soldiers, once they are home, will begin to rehabilitate themselves, the United States will remain in Iraq to help rehabilitate the people and help them get on with their lives, help them move on and march with the beat of the drums of democracy, Iraq-style.

In the meantime, there will be alternatives discourses on what constitutes democracy away from the model of the First World countries, away from the definitions of the developed countries.

There will be an upsurge of new discourses on the notions of transnational capital and its implications in the economy of the poor countries most notably those still entrenched in the ways of old-age farming technology and/or feudalist resource ownership.

Many countries from South and Latin America, for instance, are crying foul about the lopsided effect of trade in agriculture, with many farmers ending up buying the rice and corn of other developed countries instead of producing their own, the staples that they used to produce prior to the onslaught of the lower-priced, imported variety.

Many Asian countries?the Philippines included?have this same story.

The empty rhetoric of the Philippines is that it is the center of rice technology in the whole of Asia and even internationally. Its other empty rhetoric is that is has taught many Asian countries the better way to plan and produce rice. The irony is that the Philippines now imports most of its rice from the very countries it has taught how to plant and produce more efficiently.

In the immigration front, The Great Immigration Debate will continue. The Guest Worker Program will be a contested issue and the immigrant communities?or those who are socially conscious of their obligations to their people and to their new and adoptive country?will take part in this debate as some advocates of immigrant rights have already done so.

So much revisiting will be done of the events of the old year and the Asian Pacific Americans will not be spared of the duty to re-think of their citizenship and heritage obligations especially as they prepare for the month-long celebration of Asian Pacific American Heritage in May 2006.

The coming year, thus, will be one of challenges and another triumph of the human spirit.

Pub, INQ, V1N26-27, Dec. 2005

Anong Oras Ka Uuwi, Tanong ng Bunso

Anong oras ka uuwi?
tanong ng bunso.
Ang pagitan namin
ay mga gusgusing pangarap
at milya-milyang dagat
at nakaliban na mag-amang harutan.
Gabi nung tuwawag ako
sa iniwang bahay,
gabi ng pangungulila
sa pangungulit ng bunso
sa kanyang paghahanap ng yakap
sa kanyang pagpapakandong
kahit sabihing maghapong
nahapo ang kalamnan
sa mga alalahanin
sa umaga ng pagkalam ng sikmura
sa mga salitang nakakadighay
sa tanghali ng pag-iinat-inat
upang ilarawan ng mga bisig
ang dulo ng mga lakas
sa paglayo, mga balon
ng mga hinagpis sa pag-iisip
ng mga paraaan na malipad
ang distansiya ng meron at kawalan
sa pagiging amang nandarayuhan
sa pagiging anak na iniiwan
sa pagiging magulang ng lahat
ng nakagagaling sa sugat sa dibdib.
Anong oras ka uuwi? tanong ng bunso.
Napapatunganga ako sa ganung tanong.
Isang punyal itong tumatarak
sa aking sentido habang binibigkas
ang nagkukunwaring galak.
Anong oras nga ba uuwi
ang isang exilo sa kanyang bunsong
naghahanap ng libong halik
pagkagising sa kanyang musmos
na panaginip?

Iisipin ko ang tanong
at iisipin ko ang bayang iniwan.
Ang bayan ay siya ring bunso
na nagtatanong,
Anong oras ka uuwi, exilo ng lahat
ng mga pakikipagtunggali
sa bayan man o sa ibang bayan
sa gawa man o sa salita
sa laro ng mga larawan ng ginhawa o
sa hagupit ng kahirapan?

Ngingitian ko ang bunso
sa awditibo, umaasa
sa kanyang mainit na pagsuyo.
Iisipin ko ang bayan,
umaasa na magsisimula na
ang di na nandadarayuhang kalayaan.

A. S. Agcaoili
Carson, CA
Dis 21, 2005


To speak about Asian Pacific Americans without the double hyphen--one after the "Asian" and another after the "Pacific" is to imagine America in a different light. America here is meant the United States and not the more generic North America to include other nation-states geographically included in the northern American continent.

We start with the basics: (a) the US is a nation of immigrants; (b) the US is a nation among nations; (c) the US will rely on the skills of professionals who are coming to the country to work; and (d) the US will need to replenish its human resources and its manpower with the retirement from the labor force of the baby boomers.

In the coming years--with the immigration reform making a headway for the immigrants to have a fair share of the goods of the American earth--it is now becoming more urgent for this group of immigrants to find their voice and discover the possibilities and promises of that voice.

The need is urgent--and it is grounded on the fact that the United States is a nation formed out of the need to address head-on the requisites of justice, fairness, and equality. It grew out of a war--a civil war that was necessary to purge itself of its murky romance with that which was not humanly productive because its social institutions stifled the growth of peoples, communities, and sensibilities.

There are questions that need revisiting here vis-a-vis the issues of Asian Pacific American identity/ties. The concept of identity is as fluid as one can get and we can only come up with tentative paradigms and models to account the variety of Asian Pacific American experience/s.

At best, there is not a single account by which we can get to understand who the Asian Pacific American is. There are a variety of cultural assumptions and baggage that we need to account in order to make tentative and exploratory understanding of what is it in the Samoan that is also, say, in the East Timorese.

Even with Asian Pacific Americans gaining entry in the corridors of power from the city council seats to kitchen power in the White House, so much has yet to be done. The US as an adoptive country must now be seen as such by the APA immigrants as an adoptive country.

The generous act to adopt comes from the one adopting and not from the one being adopted. The only thing the APA immigrant can do is open up his heart and speak out of his desire to be part of the demographic landscape in this immigrant nation.

As in the case of an adoption relationship, much is expected from the one adopting but so much more is expected from the one being adopted. In the family set-up, the one being adopted adapts to the house rules, at least, initially. And to the system of relationships.

In the adoptive land, there are pre-set ways of doing things; there are pre-set ways of thinking about things; and there are pre-set ways of figuring out the world.

At the start of the relationship, the adopted finds his way to the world of adoption relationship through trial-and-error.

Through this difficult road to knowing all those things that are pre-set, the adopted APA starts out with the surprises and terrors of life lived in a strange and unfamiliar environment.

The adopted APA may try out what is the best mix of everything.

The groping in the dark is expected. Nevertheless, he is expected to identify those that bring about a healthy relationship with the adoptive land. Moreover, he is expected to learn from the experience of endless adjustment of the everyday requisites of a life lived in a new land, in a new home, in a different set of circumstances.

The paradigm that says the US is the immigrant's adopted country is not tenable in the sense that the choice--if there is a choice at all--for coming over these parts is not that of the destination country of the immigrant.

It is possible that the APA immigrant came to a new land because of the idea of hope and the vast promises of possibilities that he could not see nor think of nor find in the home county.

Immigration, we note here, always begins with the idea of a dream of the possible, of the dream of the better life.

Immigration begins with the play of the imagination, a kind of an enticement of the idea of an El Dorado.

It is very rare that the adoptive country starts out with a carrot dangled before the prospective immigrant. Perhaps it used to be. The reality today is the opposite, with all the rules and restrictions that go with immigration, with getting that visa to permit one to visit the prospective adoptive country and then to discover the means to staying put and then scratch out a life from the fringes before you get the chance to mainstream your life. The APA immigrant leaves home to found and find another home elsewhere.

Recognizing this reality issues out a moral obligation on the part of the APA immigrant. Once in the adoptive land, he has to find and found home, find his voice, discover his inner strengths, gather his hopes, gather his hopes together with the other immigrants like him.

Many times, he has to fight it out.

Many times he has to struggle in order for that voice to gain merit and urgency--and for the power holders to take notice, stop, and listen.

It is still a long way before the Asian Pacific American goes mainstream in the national life of his adoptive land. The dropping of the hyphen is still a linguistic token to inaugurate his coming into an awareness of what he ought to do, what he should do, what he must do.

Something has to be done beyond the dropping of the hyphen. It is high time the APA immigrant voice is heard in the august chambers of power in this land.

Pub, V1N25, Dec 2005


By Aurelio S. Agcaoili

With this ritual

Of remembrance,

I am.

I am a Filipino American,

Without the hyphen,

Without the tentative tale

Of loves lost and found,

Lost and then found again

In these parts, here, now

Where snow is not a dream

But the reality of a chill coming

Too soon to possess me

In the cold of the early hours

Of late mornings

In lonely Los Angeles

In sad San Francisco

In hopeful Honolulu

In insomniac New York.

With the hyphen removed,

I am as Filipino as

I am as American.

Two narratives of the same

I am, this act affirming

A new beginning, an old end

Coming in ceaseless renewing

Like the calm seas remembering

The journey from home to here

From the language of easy laughter

To this tight and taut tale

Of quick joys, instant in the mix

Of days of drunkenness from the riot

Of colors in the mountains where I carry

My soul to remember my mountain

In Montalban where the hero etched

His cry for freedom,

This mountain that I have to climb now

In English as in numbered steps,

Careful not to tread upon the sacred

Ground, that piece of earth where the dew

Chooses to sparkle with the young sun

The way my children in their absent

Memory of hunger in the homeland

Do not see the pain of growing

Without the story of fullness

From meals served on time

From coffee without the salt

From rice without the anguish

That goes with a stomach grumbling

For more of the grace that we harvest

In the streets of the big cities

Of San Diego where Tagalog is spoken

Where kindness is shy and aloof

But the green money comes in handy

And keeps me company

All the days of my life in exile.

I face my America without

The history of disgrace woven

By its leaders who have learned to lie.

I face my Philippines

Without the sweet salvation

Of words said in cadence,

Empty as empty tombs

Where desire and dream are embalmed,

Preserve for a future use.

I face my America this way

Each day: I pray it will be a new land.

I face my Philippines this way:

I pray it will grow again after the storm seasons

I pray it will festoon itself with the welcome ribbons

Of sons and daughters coming home.

I have this America tucked in my heart

I have this Philippines taking residence in my soul.

My America and my Philippines

Are rituals of two plots

Of the same life story that I am

The same story line

As in a melody made out of two songs,

The words twining

Each completing each other

In the lyrics of sorrow as in joy

I come to grief

I come to remember

I come to sing again.

I am

An exile of memory.

I am

A memory of exile

From the fierce lands

With the fierce hopes,

The memory brown in the beginning

And then becoming

All the colors that

The rainbow makes

After the monsoon rains

Or the storms in their strange seasons

Ravishing our woolly world,

The one created out

Of porridge and prayer and patience

To let each day pass without dying

But allowing hope to come to terms

With the dream that matters

Like this coming over to this part

Of earth where dream is real

Where the ritual of remembering

Leads to a tryst with two fates,

One a rubric for resisting forgetting,

Another a mantra for acceptance

Of my being American for some split seconds

Of my being Filipino for many moments

I convince my ear of the sounds of American English

Spoken in my presence

And I am lost in this labyrinth

Of language becoming less strange

To the Filipino ear without which daring

Is impossible, or courage too, or even boldness

For this eternal wandering

Of my heavy heart

Of my sad soul

Of my mindless mind

Of my betrayed body

And it is the break of dawn in these parts

Even as beyond the seas, my evening comes,

And this memory of calm after the storm

Battering my islands and my spirit

After the downpour

Even as the rainbow takes on a habit

And officiates in the re-gathering

Of our selves and our hopes

Even as we have become strangers

For we are a people gone astray,

Gone away from the hearth

That warms us in winter nights.

We think of all that which are:

The sum of our fears and failures

Now the product

Of my America in my heart

Of my Philippines in my mind.

I gather the wild winds

From the familiar and strange shores

Those that peak in the heights bearing

The good news of having arrived

At my soul, me a stranger coming home

From the war of selves fusing,

Two selves becoming one

In this ritual of remembrance.

In this ritual of remembrance,

My dual worlds come to meet me

And I am.

December 17, 2005





By Aurelio S. Agcaoili

Who am I? This question of identity is always a question that is as fluid as the watery vastness separating the Philippines from the United States.

A Filipino American—the Flips, the local born—might not have the same answer as the rest of the immigrants from the home country. He has lost the memory—or he has no memory of the home country that could have made the question of identity different, perhaps more complex and more complicated than the way his elders would frame that same question.

Ask that of the one who had to scratch a life from the uneven terrain of trying and trying it out some more just to survive the first days and first years in the United States and the question is transformed into some kind of trope memorializing the long wait, the arduous struggle, the persistence of the spirit, and the numerous prayers that went with the dream to pursue good life. He is your Filipino immigrant through and through—the one who has seen it all: the ugly and the beautiful in immigrant life, the opportunity and opportunism, the consistency and contradiction, the reality and the illusion. Because all these ground the immigrant experience that has touched base with the primal passion and faith that goes with eking out a new life in a new land under totally new circumstances.

Ask that of the bagong salta—the newly arrived—and the answer could be between estrangement and welcome, between wandering and wondering, between self-redemption and self-destruction. The days are long for the bagong salta, the tears generous, the sorrowing equally so. The colorful wall calendar announcing a vacation in an island paradise called Boracay become a mute witness to the thousand circle of questioning-and-answering with the lonely and isolated soul that longs for home, for the fiesta and Friday devotion in Quiapo, for the coronation night in Gumamugam, for the carefree life on the shores of Tagbilaran, with the bald mountains giving you the stage to mount your imagination of what is it to live in exile. The bagong salta tries to bury deep in his heart the betrayal of People Power I and People Power II and think of the dire days in the homeland as some kind of a cheap moro-moro or comedia or vaudeville for the retarded leaders with their stunted mindsets about how to build a nation from the dreams of those citizens who have decided to stay put and love the motherland the way the revolutionaries had loved her.

For here, the question “Who am I?” is a question that strikes at the core of being of anyone asking whether one is a Flip, a Filipino American, a Filipino immigrant, or a bagong salta.

The question is a difficult text—it is, in truth and in fact, a question of difficulty: the difficult days in the past and the difficult days of the present, the difficult dream and the difficult pursuit of that dream.

The difficulty is as real as the tenuousness of luck, the uncertainty of the coming years even as the one asking wrestles with the terrors and surprises of the answer. But even here, even with the promise of the future, the divide between terror and surprise may be as unclear as the foggy skies in the foothills of the mountain ranges that drop to the sea that connects you to home. For in the imagination, that other side of the vastness is the country that has promised nurture and sustenance and yet failed to deliver.

This is why the Filipino immigrant asking that identity question now ran away.

Because somewhere in his mind, there is something that is profoundly missing. It is the lost memory. It is the memory of a people coming alive and kicking and needing remembering.

Because somewhere in his soul, there is something that begs to be heard. It is the song of a country the ancestors had vowed to love in eternity, the song begging to be sung again and again until it becomes the song of the immigrant’s everyday life, until it becomes the mantra that links him up with a past that is now as fuzzy as the answer to that question “Who am I?”

Because somewhere in his spirit, there is something that commands him to stop, to look, and to listen. It is the crossroads, the multiple crossroads that the immigrant has to trod on, delicately at first, delicately because the steps, initially are uncertain even as he keeps on asking that question about him whether he is American or Filipino, whether he is Filipino-American, whether he is American-Filipino—or whether he settles for a compromise and simply accept that he is as ethnic as the person next to him.

Because somewhere in his body, in that material body, there is something that makes him go back to the topography of the land and memory that he left behind—or the land and memory of his heritage. It is the movement of limbs, the sway of the hips, the taut action and reaction of the torso as he imagines himself communing with the community of rallyists and protesters challenging the powers-that-be in the land of overseas contract workers, in the land where many exiles come from, in the land where the delicate dance of self and society has to be learned. That delicate dance of self and society has something to do with, on one hand, the obligation to the everyday, to self and family, to self and kin and, on the other, the obligation to pursue the bigger causes beyond the self like the obligation to do justice to others, the obligation to do what is right and fair, the obligation to build a community of morally upright citizens and people.

The mind, the soul, the spirit, the body—these are sources of the response to the question posed by the immigrant asking that question “Who am I?” The question begins with the inner resources of the person and goes outward, ending in that difficult answer that says, you immigrant are two nations in one.

He closes his eyes and he sees the hollowed hills of the Hollywood and sacred spaces of the American Indians in the Rancho San Pedro that lead to the endless sea. He imagines the question—he imagines the answer: You are two nations in one now.

The answer continues—but the immigrant knows that the answer contains the genesis of new questions. You are a necessary exile now. The song comes in, the memory revisits, the contours of the homeland appear in a mirage, and the words of the ancestors come to bless your wandering heart, mind, body, soul.

You are a necessary fiction now—a construct, a contract, a negotiated identity, a negotiated self. But the construction has not ended: it will go on and on and on—and it will go on and on and even as you have begotten you own children and their own. For this is the circle of life of an immigrant: to begin to negotiate an identity from so many nations, so many cultures, so many selves, so many identities, so many memories and out of them form his own in a tentative way, exploring the limits of the possible and going beyond those limits, transcending the boundaries in order to create a new and a renewed self, a new and a renewed identity. You call this the plural selves becoming one—and yet this self generating others, having in it the kernel of life, of lives, of ever-new questions, and ever-new answers. The circle does not end but expands in order to account life as it is lived in earnest even if lived in exile—exiled from old selves, old identities, old country, old memory, old loves, old stories, and old song.

Because the question “Who am I?” renews the narrative of life in the pursuit of the better life elsewhere, in this bosom of the America of the dreams of the many who have been left behind in the home country.

Because the question “Who am I?” itself hints at the answer—and that answer is the contract: That you are, indeed, two-nations-in one—and by that you are always already plural.


Carson City, CA
Dec 16, 2005


"Redemption" tackles the life of five daughters and a mother. Two of the daughters are in the United States; the three are left in the home country trying as much as they can to live life in earnest and in the raw. All the five daughters carry with them the wounds that precede redemption: the wounds of life, the wounds of memory, the wounds of family, the wounds of relationships, the wound of discovering the rugged path to self-discovery and healing.

"Redemption" is an allegory of the Filipino condition, with the mother going nuts and out of her senses, losing sight of the time, losing sight of the healing power of forgiveness, and leaving the daughters to trek through life's rough roads without her, without her blessing, without her word that ought to have soothed and salved them. The daughters, after forgiving each other, discover their common pains. They learn to forgive themselves and all the people who wronged them. In the end, they conquer their own private purgatories.

Lagrimas, the tears. This could have been the imagination of mother when she named me Lagrimas.

I was her tears?

I was her tears.

I am her tears?

I am her tears.

I am Lagrimas, the daughter who did not know much in the beginning.

I did not know where I came from although the people in that little barrio in the Ilocos talked of some father I had come from.

I did not know the stories of storks giving birth to babies?nor of babies giving birth to storks.

I was just lost, plain and simple.

Father Steve?s relatives called me the outsider, the stranger, the relative who was not a kin. I did not share their wild blood, red and impure.

I was called a different name when I was a baby, I was told.

The name came from the stars of cheap films, the vaudeville kind, that mother, with her young friends would frequent to run away from the boring life of the barrio where we lived.

Many times I heard stories about mother leaving my three brothers by themselves early in the morning as soon as father Teddy left for work in his relatives big farm of citrus and watermelon and corn and rice.

She would romp with them as if the movie in the ili is all that mattered, not minding so much the growing boys who were probably six, five, and three.

Perhaps the boys could have been obstacles to her personal happiness.

Perhaps they did not share the sadness of a mother who had to watch the death of her own dreams.

She was young at that time, very young.

In her mid-twenties and in the prime of her youth, mother could not make it out, this life in the barrio lived as if all things relevant was reducible to some gantas of rice in the bin, some Sunday visit to the market for the provisions that included the vetsin, the salt, bagoong, dried fish, and some muscovado to taste the burnt rice for the ritual of morning coffee.

The people said she was possessed by demons from the forests.

Her friends said she was just alive--and she abhorred the mountain fastnesses. It is too dark in there,

The people said she was a harlot trying to seduce each man that she met on the dirt roads to the barrio or to the brook down the hill that led to the seminary.

The people said she did not know the meaning of contentment.

Her friends said she knew the face of poverty and she has gotten tired staring at this face each day.

I do not want to be poor any longer, mother would tell her friends. I have sacrificed myself for so long I do not think I can ever last another day knowing that I have to put only a chupa of rice on the pot and let the pot boil and boil until the rice had expanded to a broth and you keep on adding more water in order for it to expand some more. Put in some salt to taste.

If you are lucky, chop some ginger and then sprinkle it.

Put in a lot of prayer, the prayer that I learned from the convent of Tia Madre.

I ask for grace and blessing.

Then I call my three boys who would know when to get near the hut so they can, in one full sweep, finish off their share of the meal.

I cannot bear this image any more. My boys were growing up and we were terribly poor. They needed all the nutrients their young bodies would need and we were there, on our own, on our misery, with just our prayer to keep us from falling into a deep despair.

It is not easy being poor.

It is not easy ending a beggar of your own dreams.

It is not easy begging for care and concern and love.

I did not want any of those?and I did not want to beg. I do not want to beg.

I want more.

I want grace.

I want to have my fill in life.

I want to have some more other than rice porridge each day.

Last year the storms came to visit us in the deep of the night.

I watched the rice bin go away with the murky waters coming from the eastern hills, from the Didaya.

Oh, the waters raged.

I saw a roof of a hut popping up.

I saw a carabao trying to get out of the waters, its head bobbing up and down the flotsam that seemed to have the same rage as that of the water.

I challenged Teddy many times: You did not tell me that we will come up to this.

You did not tell me that your barrio is more miserable than the Linglingay that we ran away from.

You did not tell me that your barrio is one hell that no man should go.

We are in this hell.

We are irredeemable.

We go back to Linglingay.

Let us pack up and go.

I will tell my father we did not mean to hurt them when we decided to leave them after that harvest that they took away our entire share.

Your see, they had to pay off their debt to that property owner from the ili, the one who sold us all the things that we needed before planting time, during planting time, and before and after the harvest.

It could have been worse if we did not help them.

It could have ended up in something disastrous.

I did not like the way they involved us in their path to redemption.

We had two children, by then, you see.

And I was afraid for all of us.

I was afraid for our kids.

I was afraid for our future.

I did not see our future in Linglingay because father and mother would come and visit us to ask for help.

And so I told you, let us run away.

Let us go back to where you belong.

Let us go back to the Ilocos of your youth.

Perhaps we can find heaven there.

Perhaps there is something for us in your barrio.

But we have lost all of our land, you told me. We have lost everything during the war. That is why we are here to look for the Promised Land. That is why we had to run away and in this faraway place, I had hoped that I would strike it hot, this good luck.

We do not have anything here, I told you.

I had dreamed in my mind of a love that would come to rescue me in the Ilocos, the love of my youth, the love of my heart, the love of my life, the love of my love.

I knew him in my mind: the hunter that gets into my dream that I weave each night.

In the dark night, he would come to offer me redemption after the sacrifice, after that suffering that I had to go through with Teddy.

Poverty does not ennoble.

Poverty makes you less human.

Poverty makes you sick in the head and in the heart.

I would imagine him coming to me from somewhere and asking me if the moon and stars ever told me that he loves me.

I would say nothing.

I would not tell him anything in my dream.

I just looked at him, stare at him blankly, his face one of deep sorrow, one of deep pain, one of deep longing for someone that would love him till the end.

Something urges me on as I look at him.

I tell him in my dream: I will go with you in the hunt for the happiness we are both looking for.

And I would tie the edges of the Ilocos blanket so I would not lose his face, knot them three times the way my Bai told me when I was young.

My Bai was like a witch. She knew the meaning of rains and the chirping of the birds. She knew the meaning of the laughter of fire and the kissing ritual of house lizards at six.

She read the meaning of leaves strewn on a bowl of water with the candle drippings.
Bai would sing Salve Regina as she does her reading and she would say, Hoy, you will run away to find some happiness but you will never find it. You will crack your head.
Go, go, kneel down and pray. The signos are not good for you.

Go, go kneel down and pray.

And I would pray and pray and pray but I would see him, this hunter in my mind. I was ten at that time and I knew, I knew I would run away.

Pub, INQ, V1N25, Dec 2005


Timor Leste—East Timor—comes to mind on that day in 1992 when I watched with awe many dignitaries and members of the Asian Pacific Conference on East Timor make a case for the annexed province of Indonesia to become an independent nation-state.

The event was in 1992 at the Malcolm Center in the University of the Philippines College of Law. It was an event of wonder and self-realization as well. For here was a land and a people that have sacrificed so much: life and limb for the sake of liberty.

Their colonial history is one of gate-crashing while the feasting was going on. The invaders and colonizers and occupiers came uninvited.

First were the Portuguese.

Second were the Dutch during World War II.

Third were the Portuguese again.

And then this: the Indonesians invading East Timor right after they declared their independence from Lisbon when Lisbon effectively abandoned this territory; Indonesia annexed East Timor and declared it its newest province, occupying it ruthlessly.

We think here of giants gobbling up the small creatures.

Might is right—and size is right as well. The bullies must be so happy on that day the Indonesian military came and took possession of all the things the East Timorese held sacred and significant, true and good, beautiful and liberating.

I was writing up my ethnographic work on the struggle of the Filipinos throughout history at this time and I wanted to see first-hand what struggle was all about and here came the APCET upsetting my romantic and idealized notion of how to struggle for what is right and just and fair.

I was also struggling with the way I was to put flesh that work in the form of an ethnographic and socio-historical novel, the first of such a work that I know of in the history of dissertation writing at the University of the Philippines. I wanted to push scholarship to its limits and explore its many possibilities. Even then, I had thought of the Dangadang—and Dangadang was to consume me from 1992 onwards even as I watched East Timor—also Timor Leste—evolve into one of the eleven countries of South East Asia. Dangadang is state of war—it is a state of struggle.

And East Timor was at that state at that time.

I had thought of the case of East Timor as the case even if in the Philippines we had social problems as well. There was the secessionist movement in the South and Mindanao was just close by, close to East Timor, close to Indonesia.

But UP being the bastion of all that was needed to fight for the basic rights of peoples provided a home for the coalition of human rights and people’s rights advocates from the nation and from the international community.

In the conference that ensued at the Malcolm, we heard the plea of the people of East Timor, the wrenching testimonies of those who have seen the atrocities, the accounts of those who had been victimized by those nights of terror in land of East Timor.

At one point, the Catholic church of Dili was the only one of the few voices left that had some sense of what was rational in the aftermath of the killing spree and the systematic brutality against the Timorese people in this part of South East Asia. The other one, of course, was the clandestine movement that always reminded the people of the long watch, of the long nights, of the need for them to hold on to each other.

The East Timorese are island people, insular, and ever-free, with their freedoms bounded only by the waves in the high seas surrounding them and the mountains shielding them from harm and from the elements.

But in their caves were histories wrought in fine thought, the mind that can roam wild and imaginatively, polished in so many ways even as it interacted with other minds by force of commerce and cultural exchange and diffusion.

The Indonesians turning the East Timorese into the new Indonesians did not have a force in the thought of the East Timorese. It did not have a place in the East Timorese imagination.

This colonial project did not make sense in the imagination of those who thought of East Timor as a land of the free and the brave and the daring and the believers of a God that redeems. Did Indonesia fail to see their sad and sorrowful experience from the Dutch in its act of annexing East Timor and making it as its newest province? Did it not learn from the painful lessons of history of colonization and expansion and occupation?

Even as the East Timorese fought for their liberty, they had their faith from the ancestors holding them in solidarity with each other; they also had the Catholic faith that the first colonizers brought and has remained entrenched in the hearts of the many.

Today, East and the Philippines share that distinction of being the only two countries in Asia with largely predominant Catholic population. (To be continued)

Pub, INQ, V1N25, Dec 2005


There is one thing that affects the immigrant community in the United States of America and many are not looking.

We call this The Great Immigration Debate—TGID—that is heating up in the US Congress.

TGID hews closely on several issues.

Should the current immigration law be reformed or should it be retained as it is?

If the current immigration law is to be reformed, which part is requiring reform and why?

If a part of the law is broken, how much fixing is necessary?

How concessions are going to be granted to the new arrivals—to the new immigrants—by the “old” immigrants?

From the point of view of Asian and Pacific immigrants, there are a number of issues that should be of concern to them most.

Two big issues come to mind easily: the provisions on working visa and on family reunification.

The working visa poses many problems.

One, the applicant waits for a long time before he gets to work assuming that the application filed for and on his behalf by his employer is approved. The law says that he can only begin working October 1. This poses a long waiting period for both the employer and the applicant. Put two and two together and we have a counter-productive employment arrangement.

Two, there have been many cases in which employers have used this working visa to take advantage of workers on a working visa. Employers put in the working visa application the required salary and position but the reality is that the real salary and the real position are not given. Pinag-uusapan—ibang usapan.

There has been circumvention of the law in many fronts and always—always—the worker on a working visa is at the receiving end.

Think of the long years a worker on a working visa has to put in before an employee realizes of this injustice against him.

Sometimes, the worker-as-victim plays the role to the hilt: he begins to like the role of victim and tells himself: Kasi nga naman, kung hindi dahil sa kanya/kanila, di naman ako maliligal dito (Because were it not for them I would not have been able to come and work here legally).

Some employers even have the temerity and callousness to ask of their employees a renewal of the working visa before they take the first of the many steps to apply for the “green card” of their employees.

This arrangement gives the employer at least seven years to hold hostage the employee, making him work in accord with the terms and conditions of his working visa as agreed upon by them and not on what the law provides.

And if you change the characters of the employer-employee arrangement and make them Filipinos, we import here the arduous, untenable, and unjust negative value of that utang-na-loob that holds hostage the employee because he has to always think of that debt in all of his life—and forever: kung hindi dahil sa among Filipino at kaalyado pang bisor na Pinoy, hindi ako makakapagtrabaho ng ligal sa Amerika. (If not for the Filipino boss and his Pinoy supervisor, I would not have been able to legally work here in America.)

This utang-na-loob value, in this set-up, is a disvalue.

It is fundamentally unjust and we should say so.

It is also inhuman as it makes the worker on a working visa a modern-day slave.

Certainly, there are remedies to address the many abuses. But how much course of action is in the hands of the worker remains a question. In a new land, there is not much the worker can do. The terrain can be uneven—it is, in fact, uneven.

The family reunification concept in the immigration program of the US is also a thorny issue.

In the October 2005 visa bulletin of the Department of State, the waiting times for family-based immigration is 14 years for adult unmarried children of US citizens; four years for spouses and minor unmarried children of residents; nine years for adult unmarried children of residents; 15 years for married children of US citizens; and 22 years for siblings of US citizens.

The years and years of waiting can take its toll on families that have to constantly bridge the distance between them by the occasional phone call through a five-dollar phone card, the occasional email, the occasional pulvoron-as-padala from returning relatives, and the occasional balikbayan-box during special occasions.

The core of the family reunification component of the immigration program is self-explanatory—to unify families torn apart by the reality of immigration—and yet the long years of waiting precisely does the opposite. The long years of waiting set them apart, divide them, provide them the distance in time and place and memory—and relationships. Eventually, the result is a yawning gap between and among family members.

There is one thing that the immigrant community from Asia and the Pacific can do: lobby for the best provisions in the proposed bills—the provisions that respect the economic rights of the migrant worker and that assure families of reunification by cutting down on the waiting period.

Both these will bring about productivity in the workplace.

Both these will truly make the United States a nation among nations.

And the United States will benefit much from this.

Pub, INQ, V1N25, Dec 2005


By Aurelio S. Agcaoili, PhD

We could invest upon the community spirit Filipinos are known for and tell the people who are wont to tell us that what we have is a damaged culture or we do not have any culture or civilization at all.

Some of those scholars and rah-rah boys of the extremist kind do not look kindly on Filipinos in the Philippines and in other lands, the United States included.

They even deride us for showing this penchant for anything Western as if to open yourself up to the possibilities of change and the future is some kind of a mortal sin that does not merit any redemption.

There is one transcript of a radio talk show that is going around the cyberspace community of the knowledgeable. The subtext of the transcript says that we Pinoys have not outgrown our being "Negritos in the mountains."

The fossilized view is that we seem to have remained like the "monkey of Zamboanga" and the G-stringed specimens at the 1904 Louisiana fair and, therefore, we are to be gawked at, maybe even investigated, and assessed for our carnival value.

The easier way out in this outsider's view of who we are is to react to the callous carnivalesque charge of these people who look down on us.

We countercharge: we can dance the delicate dance of the civilized and the cultured of New York or Hollywood. We can dance even the cha-cha, on the floor or in the House of Representatives, di ba?

We begin to rattle off the many first that we can use to easily put together a parade of names and our gifts--even our extraordinary abilities.

We have the Filipino American lady chef in the White House serving President George Bush and family and all the dignitaries that go to the most powerful place on earth.

We have Leah Salonga with her Tony and her other international awards, the Leah Salonga we had to lose in order to share her with the larger and bigger community.

We forget one thing: that we have to lose these Filipinos in order for us to see and learn and understand that we were not able to offer something better to them in the home country that was why they had to leave. The irony is that they had to leave in order to live.

We keep on losing them--dem Filipinos who could have otherwise offered our people some living and dynamic imaginations, some dream of the good life, some hope to die for just to pursue it.

Our loss of nurses and other workers is not news anymore. Sagsag na ito. Gasgas na.

What is news is that our hospitals are folding up and closing shop because there are no more doctors and nurses and other medical workers who are willing to take up a slave wage equivalent to $300 per month when in the United States you can easily earn 15 times more.

The bigger news at this time is that we are losing our brainiest of the teachers--those who could have otherwise taken on the cudgels of transmitting the needed information to the younger generation and facilitating self-transformation for this generation for the sake of the home country.

I have two former students who were exemplary teachers back in the home country.

Both have decided to come to the United States to pursue their dream of the good life: one is in Washington; the other is in New Mexico.

These students were teachers par excellence. Committed. Dedicated. They went out of their way just to teach--and teach well.

They both had the penchant for learning, in and outside the classroom. One is even a politically committed teacher in the state university. She thought of the kababayan all the time.

But here they are now--here they are in a different classroom with a different set of educands.

One is teaching American students the beauty of language and literature--and the redeeming in the metaphors and idioms of a poetic piece. She is teaching her students how to look at life in the way language gives us a reading of the world and human experience.

The other student is into early childhood education, believing that if you train them young, they will grow up to be good citizens of their own country.

As I reflect, I feel sorry for the homeland. I feel sorry for our people.

It is that same sorrow and loneliness that I feel when I realized that we are losing our competent and skilled teachers to the South East Asian countries as well: to East Timor, to Brunei, to Thailand, to Vietnam, to Cambodia, to Singapore. Where else are we sending our teachers?

To think that they are not our surplus labor--we need them in the same way that we need fresh air each time--this is a vicious circle, this leaving and feeling sorrowful for leaving.

If nothing is done to abet this human resource hemorrhage, the Philippines will soon end up the way it began--with knowledge privatized, owned by those who have access to the educational resources only the rich can afford.

This parochial form of education was what the Spanish colonial program aimed at pursuing. The Spaniards held on to this set-up in order for them to maintain their stranglehold over the people by creating only an educated elite that eventually talked like them, spoke like them, thought like them, loved like them, and lived like them: self-centered, colonialist, conqueror, despotic, individualistic.

The situation today has changed: We have one of the best-educated people around the world.

Our language resource--our ability to speak many languages because of our OFW experience?could veritably be some kind of a United Nations of speakers and interpreters.

You go to Italy and you hear the Pinoys from Batangas speaking Italian the way a native does. I saw this on a train ride to Rome from Reggio Calabria down south close to the Greek country. Multiply this--and we see Pinoys speaking German like the native, French like the native, Spanish like the native, Greek like the native, Arabic like the native. And English too--and they can even write good English.

Now we see: we may be a flawed people. Our history may be flawed. Our leaders are truly flawed. But damaged? Or lacking in civilization?

Come again? But we teach in the better classrooms and in the better universities, do we not?

And we staff the hospital and health care organizations, do we not?

And we feed dignitaries with the best food, do we not?

And we sing beautiful songs, do we not?

The nescience of angels, ow, come on. Get real.

Pub, INQ, V1N24, Dec 2005


Rituals of Remembrance in Laos Land

By A. S. Agcaoili, Ph.D.

Of the 11 South East Asian countries participating in the SEA Games, Lao is one of the quietest, sometimes unheard of, and not even whimpering nor whining even if the other bigger countries are boisterous and guarding so fiercely their claims to glory and honor.

Lao is referred in pop history as the land of a thousand elephants.

The elephant, as is the case with the other countries that is shares borders with such as Burma, Cambodia, China, Thailand, and Vietnam, is a ubiquitous symbol and icon of Laotian life.

Lao, of course, is Lao People’s Democratic Republic, officially a communist state.

For more than 600 hundred years ruled by a monarchy, the Communist Pathet Lao in 1975 forced the monarch to close shop and end their centuries of ruling over a mixture of upland and lowland Laotians, some Vietnamese, and some Chinese.

Occupied by France, the country gained its independence from French rule in 1949.

Today, because of this mixture of historical events, the country lists as its spoken languages the following: Lao, French, and English. Other languages from the various ethnic groups are spoken in this country.

My encounter with Lao is through my reading of the Dhammapada, a Buddhist text that has played a huge role in the education of a Laotian.

Lao, aside from its animist cultural heritage, is fundamentally Buddhist.

The Dhammapada says: “Mind is the most important thing. It is the source of all actions. If we act or speak with an impure mind, we suffer. But if we act of speak with a clean mind, then we shall be happy.”

As I planned my excursion into the SEA literary scene, I encountered many writers including T. C. Huo.

Huo has written two novels: A Thousand Wings and Land of Smiles—both documenting the uniqueness of what could be understood, in tropic terms, as the Loatian mind informed and shaped by animist and Buddhist thought.

The big characters in the novels are Laotian, with A Thousand Wings discoursing about the possibilities of love and finding it while Land of Smiles documents the trials and tribulations of the exodus of Laotians from the land of smiles.

Laotian life is like a Philippine rural set-up, with the laid-back life, with the hours waiting for the men and women coming from their farms.

For Laos is a farming country.

A country of valleys and plains and mountains—and a country suffused with the rituals of everyday rural life as well as the ritual of remembrance of the beautiful past, that past that is pure because it is thought of by the pure mind.

We remember here the everyday art that is as living as the next Loatian dreaming of the good life: the verbal jousts that reminds you of bukanegan, the balagtasan, or the crisotan.

We remember the Laotian songs and poems: spontaneous, lyrical, and entertaining, with the lam or khap, the love poems even set to music.

All night long you can expect the lam to go on and on—and the music and the merriments going on and on as well.

This celebration that is both cerebration and communal cohesion could last for three days.

By 1986, the Laotian government began a long process of what it called decentralization. In this, private enterprise played a role despite the official status of Laos as a communist state.

This decentralization spurred the growth of the Laotian economy that has, for many years, yielded four of every ten Laotians in the poverty line.

Pub, INQ, V1N24, Dec 2005

Redemption-Chapter 6

By Abril Solis Agapito

?Redemption? tackles the life of five daughters and a mother. Two of the daughters are in the United States; the three are left in the home country trying as much as they can to live life in earnest and in the raw. All the five daughters carry with them the wounds that precede redemption: the wounds of life, the wounds of memory, the wounds of family, the wounds of relationships, the wound of discovering the rugged path to self-discovery and healing.

?Redemption? is an allegory of the Filipino condition, with the mother going nuts and out of her senses, losing sight of the time, losing sight of the healing power of forgiveness, and leaving the daughters to trek through life?s rough roads without her, without her blessing, without her word that ought to have soothed and salved them. The daughters, after forgiving each other, discover their common pains. They learn to forgive themselves and all the people who wronged them. In the end, they conquer their own private purgatories.

Dear Daughters,

In the silences that I enter into in my mind, I have this letter to you all: you Ria who have never known me except for the two years that you suckled my breast; you Lagrimas who despised me so much; you Rosario who learned so much of this running away from me; you Ditas who only know the meaning of passion and desire; and you Lorena who only know the measure and limits of vanity even as you try to make everyone beautiful and happy.

I could not have written what I have in my mind. But let the wild winds translate this into a narrative of struggle and pain even as I continually wrestle with my demon that has begun to torment me since that day the typhoon came.

On that day that the wild winds came, I prayed for the first time in a long while.

I prayed that God would take me swiftly, instantly

I have sinned before God and man?and my sin had something to do with my dream of a life of laughter and freedom and song.

And I had loved him, loved him the way I had never loved anyone, the man of my heart, the man of my soul, the man of my life, the love of my life.

He was Steve. Was. Because he had died on me.

And I remember him now twenty years after.

I remember the loving.

I remember the loving as if there was no tomorrow.

We would steal the hours during the time that we had the chance.

He would come to me in the dark.

He would come to me when the wild winds came in October, during the spawning season for the ipon, those tiny fishes that I would salt to taste to make the bagoong delicacy for my beloved.

I do not know. But I would reserve the best for him. Just the best, even at the expense of my growing up boys.

One day, my eldest brought home a mudfish he caught from the brook that meander from the Didaya to the minor seminary to the west where the sea of La Pas or Gabu is.

My boy was so happy.

You see, we have not had a good and decent for the last three days.

We had the storm last week and all over there is mud.

All over there is hunger too.

The president of the country, that man who people said came from the blood of pirates like Limahong, said he would send us rice.

The rice would smell so bad so you cannot eat it.

The smell would stick to your nose as if you just rolled on a pigsty that had not been cleaned for two weeks.

That president was a big liar.

But I liked the way he spoke English. So confident. I saw him one fiesta time when he spoke at the theatre at the foot of the Gilbert bridge.

And he spoke Ilokano too, the kind of an Ilokano you knew is spoken only by the powerful men of the ili.

Ha, this big men. What did they know about loving?

I was young when I saw Steve.

He was young too.

I was twenty six and I had three boys, their ages ranging from six to nine.

Steve was young, maybe twenty eight at that time.

In the dark I would see his face: rough, the roughness of sacadas in Canlubang.

For he went to Canlubang for the seasonal labor that the estate would need to cut the sugar canes.

He would stay there for months and months on end and I would miss him.

I would miss his smell. It reminded me of the hills and the forests and gurgling rivulets.

I would miss his callused hands. They reminded me of strength. They reminded me of his ability to protect me from harm, any harm. They reminded me of his capacity to show care and concern.

I would miss his smile, his face glowing in the dark as I watch him show me his pearly teeth. Those smiles would be sufficient to make me forget that here, in these parts, here I am, and here I am so alone. All of my family is in Isabela, hundreds of kilometers away, two days by bus if you are lucky. Those smiles reminded me of how tenuous life is, how fragile, how short.

And I had not known happiness the way I dreamed of it.

The happiness that I know was from the movies, that one that begins happily and ends happily.

I knew each time that I would meet him in the dark: that I love him more than anyone else.

He told me the same thing, with the dark as our witness.

That was the time Teddy went to the ili to meet up with the governor and the mayors and those big people who would meet up also with the president.

The president was coming to inaugurate the museum of the people, the museum that housed all our past in these parts.

I thought that I did not have anything to do with this past that they talked about.

I was supposed to go to the ili as well to watch the ceremony of welcome and speeches and empty words.

I was supposed to help out in the giving of food to the visitors, curtsy to those women in terno and run errands for them.

Or worse, I could have been designated fly swatter while the leaders talked of democracy and the nation and peace and progress.

They are all jokers, these people.

They tell so many things they did not know about.

The governor was into the arts and everything folkloric.

With the fiesta that came every February in keeping with the feast day of the William the Hermit, they would have this carnival of sorts?a carnival of everything.

A carnival of the moro-moro which I liked in the beginning because of their exaggerated movements: ?Daanam ti espadak a natadem, no dimo madaanan, biakmo?t maiwalang!?

A carnival of all their farm produce: the biggest sayote, the biggest singkamas, the biggest eggplant, the biggest watermelon.

And they would have the all night long verbal jousts and bukanegan and the dallot that ran from days and days on end.

So while Teddy and the rest of them from the village where we have eked out a life of promise?but just promise?all went to the ili to welcome the president of the land, I stayed put.

I must say that I chose to remain in the village.

That morning, in the early hours as I went to hear mass in the church up the hill towards the sea where the priests recite their matins as if the world is one solemn celebration of awakening and never sleeping, I had my awakening with my Steve.

He came to me in the dark.

I came to him in the dark, in that uphill climb that leads to the church up towering above all the houses in that unlighted barrio of Teddy.

We talked about our meeting up the day before when all of a sudden he sprang up in front of me while I walked back to home from the church. The day had not come and the fingers of sunlight had yet to reach the forested area where I had to pass from the church.

We lived uphill, to where the farm on the slope was.

And there he was, my Steve. What a sight!

I did not know he was following me but there he was in the semi-darkness that enveloped the early morning hours with the dew still on the blades of grass.

At that instant, I felt my breast being suckled and having just lost Josefa I thought that that child that I lost a few weeks back was coming back to me and telling me, ?Nanang, Nanang, I am hungry!?

I would have everything going on so clear in my mind. ?Yes, yes, my beloved Josefa, you suckle my breast anytime you want. Anywhere, even in the dark.?

But Steve was there and in the dark passion imprisoned us.

There was no blessing here, I knew.

There was only the fire of love, the ember of wanting for more, the desire to get hold of the hours and make them linger.

I do not know.

But on that morning, I went home to make coffee from burned rice still drifting in the skies, interspersed with the clouds.

I will see you tomorrow, I heard Steve telling me so softly in my ears. I was twenty six or something and I knew right there and then what love was.

Do not go to the ili to welcome the president of the land, he tells.

I look at him straight in the eyes. Even in the dark, I knew that I saw his eyes so drunk with love.

I love you, he tells.

I cannot live without you, he tells me some more.

Let us run away, run away to where the wild winds go, he tells me repeatedly even as he kisses me, holds my hand so tightly and embraces as if someone is going to snatch me from him.

I will see, I tell him.

Do not promise. Tell me you would not go. I need you tomorrow and forever.

I do not know. I am now talking to the semi-darkness.

You stay with me, he tells me as he leads me to that road to home. In the dark.

Well, there is no closure here. I will tell you more about the dire days.

I pray for you all that you will find love.



There are two ways by which we can look at the Philippines in light of the SEA Games and in the recent development of the political circus that pertain to the promise of a closure of the “Hello Garci” scandal.

The charge, for instance, of Thailand, that something fishy was going on the way the Philippines was hauling the gold is something that is symptomatic of something else.

And now, here comes the much maligned Comelec commissioner come-backing and saying, among others, that it is his duty to cut it clean and come out with a clean slate—a tabula Rasa negating all that has been said about and against him, his political “operatorship,” and his other political dealings.

We call this coming out immaculate again after much stain and muck thrown against your name and shadow.

The commissioner said he will prove—and he has been reported to have written a book to document his own brand of truth—that he is innocent, unblemished and spotless after all this protracted political drama that has almost cost Gloria Macapagal Arroyo the presidency and the Filipino people their own will and courage to overcome all these seemingly insurmountable problems.

For one, the Comelec is a constitutional commission and as such, it is expected that its members are to possess sterling qualities and aptitude to public service.

With the charge of Thailand about our cheating, we need to think again—think again and revisit the qualifications of our public servants including those manning the fort of our sports development programs.

We can dismiss Thailand’s claim as a clear case of sour-graping.

And for a reason.

With Thailand having all the stakes at this time, with that aim of doing a back-to-back championship that will mean so much in terms of its sports leadership in the South East Asian region, Thailand, understandably, can only watch from the sidelines as the Philippines keeps on increasing its gold haul.

Even as Thailand watches from the sidelines with much envy—presuming it envies the gold haul that should have been theirs if the games were played fair and square, the public perception gets uglier.

For the Philippines to maintain its leadership role in the SEA, it should look at this charge beyond the knee-jerk reaction to dismiss the accusation.

For that charge could be symptomatic of a grander problem and that grander problem could have something to do with how the Philippines is being publicly perceived by the other 10 SEA counties.

The charge seems to be shrouded in mystery—some kind of a baseless accusation and yet also something that one cannot easily shake off.

The basis could be tenuous—but in public life, everything is a play of impressions and perceptions as is the case of the play of politics everywhere.

The goings-on in the country, with this alleged cheating even in the highest of office of the land, could come off-tangent as some kind of a vague reference to the accusation.

There is basis for the public perception, however oblique the basis is.

Whether that public perception has resulted from the manipulation of data and images and information is another matter.

There is smoke in the land—and it may not necessarily be in the games.

We see the connection here.

We see the contradictions.

We fail in imagining a better place for our citizens in the Philippines, we expect other people in other countries to point out our wrong-doing.

We may not have cheated—we hope we did not—to our victory to the 23rd SEA Games.

But we have yet to account the honorable man Garci who has yet to say his piece as he promised.

And we have yet to read his book too.

History will not be silent.

Pub, INQ, V1N24, Dec 2005