I am a new immigrant in the United States, just three years fresh off the boat, if we are to use the historical term used to refer to individuals like me.
Like that picturesque Ellis Island where you have the Statue of Liberty promising to all and sundry many things in this new land, in this land of possibilities, including the liberty to pursue the idea of a dream, I have in my head the picturesque future meeting up with the present--or the present coming into a coalition and coalescing with the future.
Yes, the idea of a dream. And that, to me, is what makes sense.
That is the idea with the picture: What if I tried going FOB--fresh off the boat but now fresh off the plane--and I could eventually buy time to write that great Filipino novel?
Not the greatest, but simply great, Filipino novel?
For a struggling writer with such an ambition whether justified or practical, there has to be a way. The situation back home did not warrant a writing environment, no, never: to put food on the table is always a priority over this other less mundane duty to propitiate the gods and muses of the aesthetic.
I have always known that I would always want to write. Whether writing would reciprocate is a prayer and a wish--a kind of a wistful thinking. But it does not matter initially if I would have that one fat chance to earn a living through it as long as I can write, as long as even if the only writing that I can remarkably write is a blog piece such as this one.
I have always known for so long that writing is a curse and that the only way to get out of this spell--this curse--is to write. It is writing that makes me realize my freedom. It is writing that will deliver me from this curse.
I did try--I tried many times.
But I realized one thing: I cannot write when the stomach is grumbling.
Never mind if it were my own.
The grumbling I have known for so long, the grumbling I can always endure.
I have known the face and force of hunger first hand both as a vow and a choice (with that religious training that I had to go through as a student to the Catholic priesthood for some time) and as a consequences of life's conditions.
In both counts, I had not complained, I never complained.
I took in each hunger at a time, and each hunger made me see how blessed I was, how blessed am I.
But when the stomach that is grumbling is not mine but my children's, that is something else.
While the grumbling stomach may not be literal, what is more literal is the possibility that my chance to sit down and write that great Filipino novel may not come because for years and years, I was too busy earning a living.
So I told myself: it is high time to test the limits of borders, whether these are geographic, psychic, or aesthetic--or even administrative and political, national and international.
I remember this testing of borders because I remember the division wracking the Koreas still and yet there is that memory of the tearing down of the Berlin wall to make it sure that divided Germany would not remain divided but now coming into a healthy fusion, the union attesting to the triumph of the spirit, the nobility of an idea, the grandeur of celebrating the human and the humane.
While many of the nations of the worlds are tearing down borders, while Europe is trying to get a handle of what magic there is in a united continent in spite of its varying cultures and dispositions, not to mention ideological premises in nation-building, the United States is contemplating putting up miles and miles of walls to border its boundary with Mexico.
Take the logic of President Bush and the proponents of this view that puts up a long stretch of walls fencing off intruders from the neighboring land.
There are reasons, of course.
And one of them is the continuing movement of Hispanics into the U.S.
Some accounts say there are now about 40 million Mexicans in the U.S., the total even more than the combined population of some South American countries.
We understand, of course, the anxiety this reality has created and will continue to create if not checked properly.
But with Hispanic presence a real one and one the nation of nations cannot anymore deny but has to factor in its immigration reforms, programs, and agenda, numbers do really create some concrete pictures and compromises.
Some immigrant rallies have proved a full force of immigrant voice, with half a million joining the Los Angeles rally the first time it was called.
Accounts say that no one ever estimated that the rallyists could come up with this number--and many were simply astounded. The latest, some say, in that rally "A Day Without Immigrants," had put in a million or so, quite a feat.
I sit down to reflect on these issues and this show of force and this show of solidarity.
I sit down to read about the Gov. Schwarzenegger (is my spelling right?) recalling that more than 30 years ago he also came from Austria to find out something for himself in the U.S. and now he is running the affairs of the California republic.
I sit down to dream about the possibilities of making it here as an immigrant despite the fact that I am not a nurse, that I have no physical therapy skills, and that I used to be a public school teacher in these parts. "Used to be" is the right word here.
I did not last, for many reasons.
But this is another story.
I am even contemplating of not renewing my credentials and move on to teaching and research and community work in another level.
Perhaps this is the better move.
I pray it will be the better one.
So I can write about the silences of the silenced immigrants.
So I can write about their muffled voices.
Their plight is what seduces me--and I am a sucker for stories that do not paint a romantic and romanticized picture of the immigrant experience but stories that tell of the thesis, anti-thesis, and synthesis of immigrant life.
This is quite dialectical, in a way. Hegel and company are perhaps the key allusion here. But then again, I want the contradictions as well as the truths in these contradictions.
There is porousness in the borders of nations now.
With our globalized world, shrunk to a miniature like a ping-pong ball you can put in your hand, there is not much we can run to except to each other.
Or so I hope.
And in the running to each other, we ought to give to each other kindness, blessing, and care.
Unlike some Filipinos over here who have made it and now speak English like a pro and have come to despise the new immigrant, the bagong salta, the Pinoy with the accent, the Pinoy who still sticks to his Bisaya, Ilokano, Cebuano, Ilonggo, or Tagalog.
Ha! there are many of them over here.
They are called phonies: fake Americans, fake Filipinos, one you can never categorize because fakery is not a category in these parts.
Even if the world is porous, even if the borders are porous.
A. S. Agcaoili
Sunday, May 21, 2005