Some Notes on the Modernization of Ilokano, II

I present an argument here: That the way to go to modernize the linkers and/or conjunctive markers `ket' and `ken' is not to go back to the way they wrote two generations ago, with their Castilian penchant for the impossible 'Q' for 'quen' and 'quet'.

The way to go to modernize our language is to adopt the 'k' sound more obviously in keeping with the kur-itan/kurditan phones and with the more contemporary usage of many publications, to include Bannawag, Sirmata, Tawid, the Bible with many versions and other textbooks and literary materials. Here, widespread usage dictates; it is some form of a dictatorship, alright, but here we go: Why fix that which is not broken? I do not understand.

Then again, we have to accept the dynamic of language use and usage: that those who use it in writing will eventually win out, at least for a time, until some other stronger forces will challenge that and unless a real, hard to undermine-kind of standardization has been put in place. The English language went through this a lot and we have to learn, learn, learn.

We cannot argue for defilement here, as if the pollution of language does not happen everyday.

The clinicalized and deodorized way of looking at the Ilokano language is borne by a certain nostalgia for that which is untenable and illogical today, but a nostalgia nonetheless for a time past that is not our own time in the first place. And this time is not even ideal because it evokes the real defilement that we have to resist, and keep on resisting, this colonization and neocolonization of the Ilokano mind.

The principle for relevance of the the praxis of language is its ability to express the mind-set/s, world-view/s, and perspective/s of the current users and not the way some people two or more generations ago thought of how the language ought to look like and to be written. Appropriation is the key: we borrow, take it as our own, and do not, not ever, return.

One thing that ought to govern us all in the collective attempt to 'modernize' Ilokano, oh well, call it Iluko, if you wish (but this is another point to ponder), is to figure out a way to economize the way that language expresses itself and not to be extravagant. With the stereotype about Ilokanos being spendthrift and tight-wad, why put in 'qu' when you can use 'k' instead, and more direct at that?

Modernizing language is making it short, simple, and to the point, stupid (as the saying goes, and pardon the expression).

Old languages tended to be represented in long ways and forms. They can even be reduplicative, verbose, ornate, florid, snaking unnecessarily towards hills and valleys and plains instead of following the route straight ahead.

Newer ones tend to economize their expression.

Think of text/texting as a form of language. Insist on the young your 'old/undefiled' way of texting and let us see.

BTW--read up here, purists!--and this means, simply, by the way, written in three letters and not your long three-word phrase, this texting is a form of modernising language, right?

Somebody will please study how our Ilokano youth, in using text, have appropriated our language. I am curious; I would like to see how they do it. They are going back to the requisites of kur-itan/kurditan, I suppose.

This is also the principle of good writing, which opens to us a new way of looking at the literary. The 'Qu' is unpoetic; 'k' is.

For one, poetry seems to be more exciting because it follows this rule on economy of expression. The prosaic, well, it is simply put, prosaic.

That is why it remains true to say that: (a) a good short story should have the kernel of a poem first, and then, a novel second, but all told, still a short story (paging, paging, the critics of short story writing in Ilokano).

We all are crying foul why we have not so far developed short story writing so much.

The reason is simple: we have published only one form--the prosaic form. the form that alludes to the jurassic 'Qu' and we have not allowed to open our minds into the vast possibilities of other forms, such as your 'k'.

Those experimenting, for instance, do not have any place in the publications and they never win.

And we tend to be too extravagant with our short stories.

The cue and clue here is: economize, stupid!

One example I could tell right off is Roy Aragon's "Indong Kagit".

That is one perfect short story: poetic, and containing your novel's seed of creation and construction; his could have been one chapter of a good novel that indicts our society's injustices. (Paging Roy Aragon, please work on this.)

The stories that are coming out, for instance, are not in accord with the notions of 'modernizing language' but following the prosaic excursions of the 'scientific world' that tries to explain everything even if some things need no exlaining anyway.

Or we revisit the classic Johnny Hidalgo piece--classic because it is a pillar in short story writing--"Bituen ti Rosales." Read up on the grammar, the semantic promises, and the vast semiotic possibilities of that piece and you will see that here is an aesthetic landmark whose meaning/s escape/s us all. (I have probed JSP's art and it escapes me. I have written about his poetic project in his poems and in his paintings and both escape me--the poetic in the painting and the painting in the poetic.)

Ha, this is called belaboring the obvious. Why tell? What to do instead? Paint a picture, the way Aragon does, the way Hidalgo does.

And the 'quen' and 'quet'?

Baloney--useless, inutile, impotent, one extra letter in a word we could have said in three.

So why write four instead of three? Beats me.

Here, it is not a questions of going through the 'motions of Bannawag ortography' and allowing it, before our very eyes, its collective act of 'defiling' our language. Bannawag has its own interests to protect. To accuse it of defilement is not according to form.

Here, we see Nid Anima's impossible--impossible because it is ahistorical--concept of 'defilement'.

We account the subtexts here: (a) a pure Ilokano language; (b) an undefiled Ilokano language; (c) a pristine Ilokano language, untouched by human hands, colonization, pollution, diffusion, cross-cultural encounter and exchange. Tell me about the Ilokano/Tagalog word 'arak/alak' and let us see whether the illusions of grandeur about a pristine and pure and primeval Ilokano language holds water.

Sorry, but this does not hold. It cannot hold water, never, not in any way.

The conclusion: Drop the Q in quen and quet (we have to pity the trees and the ink and the ina a nakaparsuaan here, if you see the connections--and there are many the thinking mind should be able to see. Do we ever recall why in the documents the "Qu" form of your linker and conjuctive marker had become cumbersome, until probably the 60's and so the documents would shorten them, writing them as simply 'Qn' and 'Qt'? Think of linguistic economy here.

Why bother going back to the Doctrina Christiana's imperialist and colonizing agenda when we do not need it in this respect? Unmask the empire and the colony--and in extensu, the imperialist and colonizer in sheep's clothing--in the Ilokano language. It is high time that we did this. If we do not do it now, when are we going to do it? Remember this revolutionary catechism? So we say: No saan nga ita, kaano? No saan a datayo, sinno?

We take only what we need along the way as we march on, together with our Ilokano language, to the beating of the drums of Ilokano language modernization and development.

A Solver Agcaoili
Honolulu, HI
August 30, 2006

Some Notes on the Modernization of Ilokano, I

These are my own peculiar way of looking at the lively and dynamic exchange of ideas on the Ilokano language at this time.

There have been a number of positions, voices, and attitudes and all of them are salutary. They all point to a mind that is thinking, reflecting, ruminating, and caring.

For me, thinking is simply thinking hard and allowing reflexivity to come in and reside in the soul, the spirit, and the heart where fusion becomes the principle of each second of our thinking life.

This means that I have seen in these attitudes, voices, and positions such a quality. And then there is the bonus: care, a caring disposition which we all see in Roy Aragon, Joel Manuel, Joe Padre, Jake Ilic, Jim Raras, Jim Agpalo, and Nid Anima.

There are, of course, other previous voices we can allude to, refer back, and 'archeologize': JSP Hidalgo Jr, Greg Laconsay, Joe Bragado, the 'Bannawag voice', and scholars from the West who are not necessarily Ilokano but who have taken upon this task of helping us help ourselves by looking into how our language behaves. We name some: Prescila Espiritu, Carl Rubino, and Laurie Reid.

Now, the points:

1) On the 'abecederia' or kur-itan or kurditan or alibata.

Various literatures would tell you that the terms for the alphabet are many such as abecederia, kur-itan, kurditan, alibata. Abecederia is Hispanic, kur-itan is of the Ilocos Norte variety, kurditan is Ilocos Sur, or alibata is Greek-Arabic before it ever became Tagalog, or Filipino, or Ilokano as it came from aleph and beta.

You see that aleph and beta have been fused.

This has been done by allowing the process and power of neologism to come in to account a new linguistic and cultural human experience.

The sounds, when combined, were made to behave in a Tagalog and/or Ilokano way, hence the word 'alibata', clearly, aleph-beta, mispronounced and mis-wrtten as it were, but now clearly appropriated. The notion of abecederia is the same thing: the a-be-ce of the Spanish language.

Every language is a sound, right? And the way to account the sound/s in a written form is arbitrary, convention-bound, historical, cultural. In short, written accounting calls for a system, hence, some sense of constancy. And yet, to be democratic and just and fair, it must be an open system to admit change, some kind of a change that adds quality to human life.

We note here that the aleph-beta are the first letters in the way the letters of the Greek alphabet have been ordered; the Arabic language appropriated this, in some sense, which is the reason why we caught it as well by force of trade and commerce, possibly by way of the Arab and Indian traders (?), which accounts for the Sanskrit influence of our language, such as the Ilokano word 'arak'.

If some 'unenlightened' Ilokanos, in their foolishness and ignorance say that 'arak' is all ours and it came right off from the split of the bamboo as if it were part of the Malakas-Maganda legend that became the rallying point for some 'political agendum' of the past, we can only guffaw here. Hello, hello, where were they when Apo Lung-aw showered grace and wisdom and light and knowledge?

Were they with me in the fields of Gumamugam, playing risay-baboy? We could have all been absent at that time. Absenerotay ngamin, gunggunatayo.

Every 'alphabet' is a linguistic, cultural, and historical convention.

And it is a political act and fact.

This means that some time in the past, some people have tacitly agreed to work things out this way and their way of 'working things out' this way became the convention.

Does it matter what we call? Do we have to choose which is 'better'?

My answer is: No way, Jose.

Forget your linguistic dictatorship or your cultural authoritarianism.

There is some kind of a political unconscious in language and we must, at all times, be wary and ever-ready to unmask those that are meant to deceive us. For language, as it were, is already a lie. We are to create another one and we are done in.

Any attitude that points to a generous and genuine idea of what democracy is, in concept as well as in practice to account an orthopraxis of what we are and what we want to be, ought to be the guiding light, our guiding light.

When we dream of and pursue democracy, we extend that, in toto and without exception, to all that which concerns 'life': social, political, economic, cultural, linguistic.

2. On the letters of the alphabet.

My position, take them all.

And you have to be bold and daring. You have to be brave.

In some ways, writers and cultural workers like Aragon, Manuel, Agpalo, and Padre have joined the fray to re-visiting and re-thinking about the letters of the kur-itan/kurditan and their position of accounting new sounds is the right way to go.

In a shrinking world, we cannot deny the drone and dreariness of the 'globalized' sounds of the present, this Present as Presence suggesting sounds from Czech Republic to Hezbollah in Beirut. Thanks to the far-reaching arm of CNN on your cable.

So what is the way to go? Admit Z in zero; X in X-ray, J in Jesus and Jerusalem (why spell them in H, aver?), Ch in China, C in (pancit Canton), and all the others.

In this way, you enrich the language. Our ethical act should be one that enriches us all and not one that renders us impotent, inutile, and impoverished. The way to go, really, is appropriating all of these.

3. On Ilokano being pure.

Come on, Jose the purist. Back off a bit. Ilokano as a completely fenced off, completely insular, fully isolated linguistic phenomenon, clinically deodorized and Lysol-ed/Gladed? The facts of the case show otherwise.

Admit that you are ignorant and you are masking off that ignorance with the mangled faux meditation on what pure language and pure culture ought to look like. In social psychology, they call this act 'compensation', one way of self-defense in order to hide that you do know something but not enough to hide your ignorance.

And so you want the language to be pure, spotless, and without any blemish. Are you an agent of some laundry soap company, with all those claims to ultra- and/or calamansi 'cleanness' and 'whiteness'? Awaganka iti ahente ti kinapuraw ken kinapudaw. Change careers. Be a laundryperson--or some kind of an agent of all these mutinational companies that always flood and bombard us with notions of whiteness, and, if you so wish, germ-free life: clean, white, pure, conscience-stricken.

Now, now, admit that you are ignorant. In this way, you are able to name the disease in your mind: that ignorance with the big, big 'I'.

Simply put: you do not know your premises and therefore, you cannot account the il/logic of your argument. Or your lack of an argument, ab initio. The Romans would say: Distinguo, amico. How to move from premises to a conclusive conclusion is really your problem, not ours.

You want a sermon, Jose the purist? I will give it to you: There is no pure language, no pure culture, no pure anything. Your name, Jose the purist, is as impure as the breeze down in Gumamugam as in Laoag and Vigan. Or Bangued. Or San Fernando City.

All of human acts, customs, traditions, and languages are 'polluted'. Here and there we borrowed something and we never returned.

Remember the 'Ilokano pride' in the word 'arak'? Hehehe, admit that you did not kow where that word came from, di ngamin?

The most difficult thing to learn and to understand and to see is our own very nose. And yet the irony is that it is too close to our eyes. Why? Beats me.

But the reality is this: we need some mindful consciousness to understand those that are supposedly familiar to us. Like those of our heart, di ngata?

(To be continued)

A Solver Agcaoili
Honolulu, Hawaii
August 27, 2006

Maysa a Malem a Tungtongan Ken Dr. Raymund, Tibak

Iti pagsasao ti puso ti kayatko a pangiyebkasan daytoy. Maysa nga inosente a tungtongan kenni Dr. Raymund Llanes Liongson, agkabannuag nga akademiko iti Leeward Community College ti Unibersidad ti Hawaii.

Maysa a di nairanta a panagsasarak ti panagam-ammomi aginnem a tawenen ti napalabas: maysa a hello iti telepono idi maisar-ongak iti Honolulu para iti maysa a kumperensia iti lengguahe iti Unibersidad ti Hawaii.

Hello, kinunak.

Sinno daytoy, kunana iti ungto a linia, iti boses a nababa, medio nabangag, a kunam la no tinubay dagiti pukpukkaw iti rali iti puraw a kapitolio ti Laoag.

Inyam-ammok ti bagik.

A, wen, agkitatanto koma, kinunana. Adda Pamantasan Conference nga angayenmi ket no mabalin ket agsaritaka maipapan iti folk literature ti Filipinas.

Wen, kinunak.

Dayta ti umuna a panagsarakmi a nangiruangan kadagiti adu a panagsarak ken panagtutungtong. Ket iti pananginawmi ti Nakem International Centennial Conference, adda ni Dr. Liongson a kaduami.

Aginnga nga iti maysa a malem ti Biernes, iti piesta opisial ti Statehood ti Hawaii, iti maysa a naunday a panagmimiting, linukatan ni Raymund ti maysa a paset ti biagna: ti pannakigamulona iti Tignay maipapapan iti panangilablaban iti karbengan dagiti masa iti panawen ti diktaduria. Isuna ken adu pay kadagiti nakamurmayen nga estudiante ti Laoag ti nakisinsinanggol kadagiti arutang tapno maipeksada ti karirikna dagiti umili.

Maysa a paset ti kinaubingko daytoy: ti makasaksi iti panagdara dagiti pader ti puraw a kapitolio ti Laoag tapno iti kasta ket agbalin dagitoy a pader a plakard ti nakain-inaka a kasasaad ti gimong ken dagiti umili.

Agsubli kaniak dagiti lagip: buyaek dagiti aktibista nga agriaw. Basaek ti biblia ti panangipinget ti karbegan a kas makipagili. Idulinko amin dagitoy ket iti nobelak a Dangadang, sadiay, sadiayko a sublian dagitoy sibibiag a lagip.

Siak ti maysa kadagiti nagig-iggem kadagiti arutang, kinunana. Ken nagistayannak pinatay ti soldado a kasinsinko: inungapna ti ngiwatko ket insulbongna sadiay ti ngudo ti paltog kalpasan ti ritual ti panangtungpatungpana kaniak. Sisasango ti inak, sisasango pay ti maysa a kabagiak.

Dimngegak latta. Ket nagsubli kaniak ti Laoag a nagubingak.

Ken ti pagilian nga intunda ti nadangkok a rehimen iti riwriw a rigrigat.

A Solver Agcaoili
Manoa, Honolulu, HI
Agosto 18, 2006

This Picture of Warriors Going Home From War

It hits you hard, this picture of Israeli warriors going home from war.

The scene haunts for many reasons. The picture of Israeli soldiers, weary from war and warmongering from some other forces beyond their control, have packed their bags and carry their deadly war materiel to bring home, back to their lonely homes in the war-torn fields, some close to the borders of anger and remorse, repentance and regret.

This search for a homeland of the soul is a tricky business, convoluted and conflicted and conflicting.

Lebanon tries to put together a homeland for its people from years and years of dispossession.

Hezbollah, in the sub-text of its pronouncements why it engaged in a war with Israel in response to Israel's incursion into what Hezbollah perceives as Lebanon territory, attempts to do the same, in means and methods not perhaps within the definition of what is acceptable to the powers-that-be of the international community ruled by dictators of democracy in the First World.

And in Israel's aggressive campaign to add one more inch of a land, one day at a time, to its United Nation's constituted 'homeland' when Israelites went home from the Diaspora, remains a motive, eternal, perennial, perpetual.

It strikes me so hard because in the Philippines, in the homeland of the Filipino, there is not much of this passion to keep together the homeland, in physical and psychical terms.

A homeland has to be both--physical and psychic, territorial and psychological.

A homeland is a place in the map and in the heart, a bundle of emtions, a bundle of memory, and a space in the territory of the mind.

Or one where one is born, the birthplace bearing the remnants of the umbilical cord that links one to the past getting into the porous borders of the present and the future.

I think of all these as a person of the Filipino Diaspora and these things make me sad.

This sense of re-claiming what is left of the homeland is also one tricky business in the Philippines.

But hope is not lost.

I have seen exiles everywhere holding on to that hope, believing that the homeland is worth going to war for, a war in the mind, in the consciousness, in the culture, in the poetry of a seeking soul.

I have seen them, these exiles.

There are not many of them, just a handful, these real ones, as genuine in their intentions as those of the surf and sand and sun here and elsewhere. These are the people who know the business of keeping the homeland in the mind and in the heart, in the sovereignty and territorial integrity of nations that have gone past self-definitions and selfhood.

And now I see them, like the soldiers of the war, yes, weary and wary of what the future holds but nevertheless going home to roost and rest and recreate one big dream of one huge future for the coming generations of warriors for the homeland.

And I realize: one can only have one homeland. All the others are substitutes, poor substitutes.

A Solver Agcaoili
Waipahu, HI
August 17, 2006

Tungtungkua Intonokua

Kablaawak ti tungtungkua ket kunak, "intonokua". Anian a rikna: makaay-ayo, makasalibukag, nakawaywaya. Kanito daytoy ti panangideklara: Awan, awan ti makabael kaniak ita nga agbalin nga adipen ti asinno man ken daytoy a kanito ket kukuak, bukbukodko.

Ti Aldaw dagiti Baliwangga

Nabayagen a diak nangngeg a nayebkas daytoy: baliwangga. Malagipko ti kinaubingko iti away ti nagannak kaniak a lalaki ita ta sumken manen dagiti lagip maipapan iti baliwangga.

Panangsungbat iti Saltek

Malukagka iti tektek dagiti saltek ita a Dominggo, maysa a bigat a nasapsapa ngem dagiti arbis ken bayakabak ken bannawag ditoy Waipahu. Agsasaruno dagiti saltek iti pana

The Rush of a Fresh Start

The rush of a fresh start is always adrenaline-filled, testosterone-laden, if we want to sexualize an im/migrant search for not the piquant and the meaningless but the substantial and the meaningful in life.

This is the situation I am in at this time, this fresh start thousands of miles away from the Marikina of my adult memory, the Ilocos of my childhood, and the Mainland United States of my migrant resistance to that which is alien and alienating. Honolulu is an intellectual home now, or Waipahu farther down west towards the former fields is now a haven of my tired, bored, and wandering soul.

I am constantly asked now, in airports as well as in buses, in quick meetings and in getting-to-know conversations, “Are you staying for good?” Did I perhaps give the impression that I am the quintessential "Ilokanong lagalag" as Bien Lumbera asked in his email to me months back, the pun and fun in the tone and pitch and temper of his email omnipresent? My professor, of course, knew--and knows--how my wondering and wandering mind works.

I look at each questioner, and I look at the beauty around me and the shift from the sound of the questioner’s words and to the metaphysics of the burden of the same question makes me edgier, unable to resist both the temptation to stay and stay forever and to be open to many things, including the tougher challenges of taking roots in these islands.

I know I am home in many ways, the academe my way of life, the life of the mind it offers the only one I know how to keep on with the circle of questioning and answering of what life offers to me. No, it is not me; and yes, it is also about me, this search for something better, this idea that somewhere here, I could strike it right and find, in the midst of all the tentativeness of everything, the Promised Land for me and my family.

For so long I have resisted that idea of giving up on the homeland and on our people.

For so long I have felt deep within that I have betrayed the trust it gave me when this same land of my fathers and forefathers gave me that one fat chance to help in forming minds and shaping the future, unfamiliar and unknown and uncertain, but a future nonetheless that begins in the past and the present, a future that is behind me because it is one I cannot see, well, not yet. The past and the present loom large and I know I have a handle on them somehow and so I let them there in that space of the mind that knows because it removes boldly the veil of unknowing.

A teacher, I gave up on so many things in the homeland including that opportunity to rub elbows with the rich and famous in order to maintain my distance, my independence, and my uncompromising way of looking at the tangled realities of the life of a nation and a people, my own people.

A writer, I had to make do with the simplest, most elementary means to live an “everyman’s life,” unable to afford the frills and thrills of upper middle class estilo de vida. No, I did not want to sell my mind and words and ideas to the highest bidder even if it meant the right to get into an expensive eat-all-you-can resto in Makati and there gorge on all the food I have never imagined existed in the hungry streets and nooks of my sad and angry and impoverished city.

Many times, I became a witness to the fact that students who went through my classes were far better off economically than me because their parents were far better than I was so that while I had to push and shove to ride the jeepney that would take me home after a day of mind-boggling work that included "moonlighting" teaching appointments in some other schools, many of them had their own flashy cars and on weekends drove off to their retreat houses in the countryside while I would be left in the city of our blighted lives making do with the retreat of the everyday by skim reading my lessons for the days ahead, the lessons on liberty and democracy and critical practice that I would insist they ought to see and realize and I prayed they would put to practice when they get to hold the reins of power in Congress and in Ayala Avenue.

I had artistas and politicians’ children for students and I did not mind except that many of them had mangled and twisted perspectives on social justice and fairness.

The artistas focused on what the audiences wanted; they simply catered to them, even pandered them; these showbiz wanna-bes had to justify their existence in that world of make-believe. And they had to be good at that to survive that dog-eat-dog world operated by immoral and corrupt capitalists of the fantasy and illusion industry.

The politicians’ children unabashedly justified their parents’ corrupt practices because, some would say, “the money scalped from the public coffers would now go to the right hands” and that “the other politicians would do the same anyway.” They took it, of course, that the "right hands" is their own--or their parents':"Kukunin din lang ng iba, kami na lang ang kukuha." That was neat, the inchoate and incorrgible grafter. No qualms there, no second thoughts about the miserable country.

It is Saturday here and I think of all these now.

The air is clear and crisp and fresh and there is that delicate dance of the luxuriant leaves everywhere, the salty breeze filling my lungs as I think thoughts of the homes I remember.

The modest home in Marikina Heights, at the foot of the mountains the Katipuneros used to go around the Spanish civil guards in Kalookan and the other urban exit areas to Bulacan so they could reach Malolos to attend the convention held by the revolutionary Philippine goverment when Emilio Aguinaldo and Andres Bonifacio still saw each other eye to eye for that cause bigger than their political and military ambitions.

The apartment home in lonely Los Angeles, a transient home that remembered all the trials and tribulations that I went through as an im/migrant trying to figure out what lay beyond the government's declaration about equal opportunity, with that sense of waiting and uncertainty always the ingredient to the sense of hoping for the better days.

The professional and intellectual home in happy Honolulu, down on Manoa, near the mountains that give off all the élan that I would need to come to terms with the difficult challenges of heading a program to preserve and perpetuate and promote the ethos of our people in this land of immigrants.

And the temporary home in Waipahu, in the hills overlooking Pearl Harbor, this site of struggle for American world supremacy and military might and this same sight that makes me kneel in supplication before the Creator, the act of humbling myself my own little way seeing the hand of the Maker in all these that had happened to me for the last three years of my almost voluntary exile here.

The Pearl Harbor scene from the Waipahu hills gives me each morning this feeling of awe, unable to say the sayable before me because it is beyond words, the miracle momentuous and unrepeatable. The scene is a place that is peaceful and calm, always falling quiet, always fully silent. There is contemplation here, full and entire.

I take in all these scenes, these sensibilities, these thoughts, these memories, these songs in my soul.

I turn them into poems, the ones that I hope will chant and enchant the homing heart.

A Solver Agcaoili
Waipahu, HI
August 12, 2006

Sorrows Sacred and Divine in the Land of God

The story by Nikko Dizon says it all, the title of the piece underscoring the sorrows of exiles, those fellow Filipinos driven by despair and the dream to be redeemed from it, to go to other lands, this Lebanon of war and terror and death included. The title is apt, a social drama unto its own: “We slept with a dog, ate leftovers for $200/month.” We exiles in the United States do a quick calculus of our economic benefits and we can say we are better off here, plus or minus the terrors and surprises of living the life of second class residents and citizens, the second one if you are luckier than the rest.

That statement in open and close quotation permits the voice to come into the open and own up the ultimate tragedy behind them, not because they cause the tragedy to happen but because they are at the receiving end of this social drama. This time around though, the setting of that statement--the dialogue in that social drama--is Lebanon, a home of both the Christian and the Moslem God.

Paradise is empty now, emptied by this war that has wreaked havoc on the Lebanese as well as the Israelites.

But this war has wreaked more havoc on the dreams of the Filipino exiles in that land, those workers from the home country who have to leave home and heartland to earn the equivalent of $200 if the employing boss has some sense of justice and fairness, or $150 when the better of him makes him beside himself and sees not human beings in the Filipinos under his employ but servants and slaves of old who were only valued by their hands and labor they could contribute to run his household.

The Filipino workers in Lebanon have reached the Promised Land of God, the very land promised in the Old Covenant.

But this land of the Lebanese, as is the land of the Israelites, is as empty as the deep and dark abyss of hell. With brothers and siblings killing and murdering each other in the name of humanity, freedom, liberty, rights, and all those that are linked up with the right to live a humane life, we can never go wrong in this program of annihilating each other. And this annihilation is commencing in the sacred ground of the sacred God. Oh, the sorrows of our people in exile, in the land of God, is sacred and divine.

Here we go again with these ironies of believingness and belief, the same ironies that brought about the reign of terror during the Christian crusades, with warriors annihilating enemies in the name of a god, small letter, with no other goal in life except to win and keep the winning in the war at the expense of human lives.

And at the expense of the lives of the overseas Filipino workers in Beirut and the country’s other cities and districts.

What the war told us is the untold sufferings of our people in this land. The Inquirer account tells us more of the details that make you puke and realize that what happens in Beirut happens everywhere, with impotent and callous government officers tasked to protect our people in other lands unable to help those who need to be helped: “In their employer’s mansion in Lebanon, they slept in a little room, ate leftovers and worked from daybreak until midnight so they could earn $150 to $200 a month to send to their families in the Philippines.”

Darren Legaspi said in an interview with the Inquirer that “their contracts were not being followed by their Lebanese employers” and that this “was a common grievance shared by the returning overseas Filipino workers.” Legaspi also said that in that wealthy Lebanese extended household not unlike an extended Filipino household, “she and Filipino companions had to deal with a nasty Lebanese governess who makes them eat leftovers, at times nearly spoiled.”

Legaspi’s voice is personal and singular.

But it is in this sense of the personal and this sense of the singular that this voice assumes a new tone and pitch, temper and urgency. That voice is universal as well. And no less.

Of the estimated number of 3,000 OFWs already repatriated at the time of the Legaspi interview, you have with you tales of suffering and sorrow and exploitation and oppression numbering no less than 3,000.

We can even imagine here a multiplier, with many of the 3,000 OFWs telling tales that appear to be fantastic and imagined but are as real as the missiles and rockets Hezbollah fires up in the Israeli heavens to announce an untold destruction of life and limb; the same act is returned, in a calculated ritual of revenge by Israel’s army of warriors trained to protect a fragile homeland and to maim foes if necessary, with the United States on its side in this singular act of putting together a decent homeland for all of its people in the homeland and in the Diaspora.

I think of all these facts and figures, these numbers and this non-sense even as I end up an inutile spectator to all these forms of violence and war and inhumanity around me.

I am a writer, true, but the power of word is not there to account the misery that I see, this contradiction that I see, this meaningless act of destroying others in order to create one’s own dream. Why would destruction be the backgray of creation? I do not know and the answer is beyond me.

Such rationalizing and questing for an answer escapes me now as I stand to watch those who arrive at Manila’s international airport, the faces of the repatriated one of mixed joy and sorrow, but more of sorrow for the loss of livelihood in another land, a livelihood that nets one’s family some meager amount each month to tide them over, just to tide them over each month. In the homeland, those who live from month to month are a bit on the luckier side. But this Hezbollah-Israeli war has put an end to that luck, if we can call the conditions of the OFWs one such luck.

The sad part of the story is that this exodus goes on and on and there seems to be no let up to this exporting of warm bodies to other peoples and other climes.

We know, of course, that life and limb have been sacrificed and in this conflict between the Hezbollah and Israel, the conflict has become one of those who supply the war materials, with the United States providing the sophisticated rockets and missiles, and Hezbollah’s patrons providing their own armaments to kill Israeli cities and soldiers and civilians.

Wars, indeed, begin in the minds of men and women.

And the war in the empty stomachs of Filipinos eking it out in distant lands, wars or no wars, has just begun.

I think of these wars as tropes of the Filipino condition, the Filipino who leaves the homeland in order to be welcomed by another war somewhere else.

The OFW’s luck in life is tough, so damn tough.

A Solver Agcaoili
Honolulu, HI
August 11, 2006

Terror Alerts, the Exile, and the Immigration Program

These are ways apart, it seems, these three big issues in US-land: the question of red alert in airports everywhere, the exile going the rounds of good luck and good fortune, and the hopefulness every immigrant-to-be puts a premium on the fairness of the upcoming immigration reform the US Congress is thinking.

There is this terror of truth, not the truth of terrorists who are holding us hostage today.

For in the terror of truth is the poetry of life lived in earnest, with its blood and gore, and this time around, the bloodbath that happens between countries who are otherwise related by blood through their ancestors and by history even if they are apart, at least in theophany.

The truth of terrorists, unlike that of art, is that of a one-track ideological positioning of an end-of-world theme that holds believers and fanatics in awe, brainwashed to that idea that in the heaven that is promised to martyrs and heroes to the cause—The Cause—virgins and gold and rewards of eternal life await. This surfacing of reward-and-more-reward central idea that governs the conduct of recruits to terrorist causes is an ugly poetic—ugly because it denies all of us the very right to claim and re-claim our humanity, as if only those who are capable of igniting the bomb’s fuse have the right to sit in the right hand of the lord and master of human life.

We take three steps backward and with the distance allotted us, we foreground the struggle to let loose liberty and justice in their “day-to-dayness,” in their everydayness. The poetic here is based on its lack, this penchant for that which debases the very value this war or any war for that matter, attempts to preserve and promote: life itself.

Contemporary human life has gone to the rocky ground, unable to germinate and grow because right at the start, the bud is nipped, the sapling cut, the crown trimmed to make it sure that the trimming matches with the character of the transient, those things that do not know the meaning of forever.

In all these, poetry comes to the rescue, poetry as a resurrection of the human capacity to alter the contour of suffering and fear.

Poetry guides, and guides our thoughts in remaking our own images as people capable of loving tenderly and with compassion, of seeing that world with kindness, and of understanding The Other with openness, that other that is both enemy and friend, that Other that is both us and not us.

Even as wars go on all over the world, with the warmongers presumably exporting wars in many countries, there is something we can hopeful of: this resiliency of the im/migrant spirit, the same resiliency that never permits you to quit in order to protect your head from the sniper’s bullet.

Resilient the im/migrant is and the terror of exile will be overcome, like the fear the terrorists sow each dawn and dusk of our desperate lives.

A S Agcaoili
Honolulu, HI
August 11, 2006

The First Fog of Fall and Ilokano Poetics

The first fog of fall finds a connect with Ilokano poetics in my aesthetic fantasies, my poetic action of the fantastic in the plural.

I am back to Los Angeles after some weeks of absence to entertain this rushing in of adrenaline for the prospect of what may be called a new beginning somewhere else, far from the din of a Mainland life that is marked, as always, by time always being rushed.

In this first fog of fall that I am a witness of in this midmorning of Monday, I see many things in the fuzzy haze around me, like some light at the end of a dark day.

One of the things that I see is the blooming of Ilokano poetics everywhere.

We immigrants and exiles and second class citizens of color in this great land with the great promise for equality, democracy, and justice are now consciously driven by dreams like this one, this birthing of a poetics of our exilic reflections. We are, perhaps, doing this to atone our social sin for having run away from the motherland.

There is one thing that unites us now and this is the realization that we are Ilokanos everywhere and there are Ilokanos everywhere and we might as well be good at this, this being Ilokano here in this land of im/migrants and this collective dreaming of naming our pains as exiles in order to begin the ritual of our self-healing, so that together, in this sacred act, the pursuit becomes sacred as well.

For there is something in one's culture. In there, there is home to the soul.

For there is something in one's language. In there, there is some mansion to the spirit, one reserved for the dutiful speaker.

In our act of courage, we are reminded of one fact, one immigration fact: that the first language of the Filipino Diaspora in the United States of America is Ilokano or Iluko or Ilocano, whichever way you want to write it. In the absence of an imperialist and colonizing act of standardization--call it an act of domination, if you wish--we have to accept all these various renderings of this identity that we are, however tenuous this identity is.

Even in the distance, there is this energy that we all have and exude and I am amazed at how the im/migrant Ilokano writers and poets have not forgotten, not a bit, their sacred act to go back to the land of their umbilical cords, perhaps some of them placed on earthen pots and hung on trees as if these very cords were the oblation to the gods of the earth and the sun and the moon and the universe and the seas and the lands.

We speak of spreading the good news of saying the unsayable, the unsayable that which no one has ever heard or listened or said before, saying it as if that is the only one that matters now in this act of revealing that which can be revealed for the next generations to see and remember and find a connect in order to avoid as much as we can that disconnect between the past fossilized as past and the present fossilized as present and the future fossilized as future and all unto its own, in no way related to the here and now, in no way related to the there and then. This is what we are going to redeem ourselves from, this sense of reading from our experiences this poetics of exile, this poetics from exile, this poetics on exile.

A good vision, this one, this making permanent what is in the mind, this writing it down for all generations to come to a possession of what is it like to pave the way for other im/migrants to come here and see something, and see something different, and make something and make something different.

It is not ideal, this condition of exile.

It is an abomination, one we all should despise.

The reason is simple: no country should permit its people to leave its secure and sacred earth by assuring each of its citizen the right to live a life of fullness, of decency, of self-respect.

Citizens leave because they see the vast possibilities, poetic these are in many ways, like this possibility to put together our migrant heads and do something to account our im/migrant experiences as our way of giving back the blessings we have received from both the home country and the country that has welcome us.

So in this first fog of fall, I see the haze in its hue of rainbows and resistance to forgetting and redeeming what we have lost.

A Solver Agcaoili
Los Angeles, CA
August 8, 2006

Full Moon At Midnight in a Migrant's Mind

It was in the Nevada sierras three nights ago that I first saw again the full moon in this season that welcomes the coming of fall. I was speed driving to the meeting up of writers in Las Vegas and there, lo and behold, there was the full moon coming from the mountain tops, round and bright, and no stars for company, but all alone in her glory, this Apo Bulan of old, one beautiful norturnal goddess of our farming people in the Ilocos.

Soon summer will be gone and fall will begin and our lives will have to adjust to the demands of the new season, with the whip of the cold wind, the drying of the land, the death of plants and their bloom.

But this full moon that tonight lights my dark mind is all there, smiling and promising so many things, talking to me in muted silence, whispering the sweet-nothings of lovers fired up with the very fire of love for that which is not tentative but for that which lasts and lasts a lifetime or beyond it.

I look out the window at this hour, almost midnight, in this night in Torrance, in the very room that saw my coming here in this land and staying put, for good, or so I hope, in order to find here the fulfillment of a promise I made to myself: that here, here in this land that I have come to from the land that I came from, here, here, is the semblance of home where I can discover the power of words, the divine magic of language, the enchanting temptations of metaphors and their possibilities.

I scan the universe above me, imagining where the angels are at this time while not so faraway near the Harbor UCLA Hospital a siren breaks the silence of this quiet neighborhood of mixed migrants from all over: the Hispanics with their blaring car stereos announcing some tango and la bamba dancing, the Pinoys with their preference to be left alone, and the other Asians with their somber faces perhaps remembering the past that does not go away. There is not much laughter here in this place but there is life germinating for all those who want to start a life here with seriousness.

I look at the clock and it is seconds before the midnight chime strikes to remind me of the need to sleep the sleep of the just. I write this in a hurry, believing that I am a just man with a just way of looking at the full moon even in this night that Torrance does not sleep with the dream of the just men and women in her bosom.

Even as I hurry to write this, I think of our literary dreams as Ilokano migrants, this sense of hope for better things to come, this idea that we can still preserve, perpetuate, and produce Ilokano language and culture even from afar, even in this land and all the lands where we are, even where our dreams for ourselves intertwine with our dreams of and for the kailianand the pagilian.

There is this spirit and energy that has been moving many, these migrant minds who know how to take the lead in accepting that migrancy is only a state of the mind and it is up for us all to totally eradicate our sense of roots and rootedness or to accept the challenge of re-discovering the road to home, that home that we came from, that home that at one point in our lives, is the home that we are.

In this full moon at midnight in this migrant's mind, I think of all these thoughts and the inspiration that holds us, the inspiration to see a land for a people who have found happiness and contentment, the land beyond the ili, the land beyond the pagilian, the land in the spaces of our minds, we migrants as well as those who were left behind to toil the land of our ancestors and there to find the sense of life, the fullness of being, the transcendence that defines who we are.

I look at the moon again and I see a collective here, the collective forming a unified spirit, unified not because they speak with one voice but speak they do with many, plural, and interesting voices, but voices nonetheless agreeing to agree on one thing: to search for that redeeming route to the home in the heart of the Ilokano migrant and the Ilokano immigrant of and in other lands.

I see Joe Padre, for instance. Or Ana Marcelo, the Tabins, Tito Tugade, Amado Yoro, Francis Ponce, Pacita Saludes, the TMI and Gumil people everywhere, this TMI that is us as well, and this Gumil that is us as well.

I see the academics at the University of Hawai`i. I see the Ilokano scholars and writers and culture advocates everywhere, like Elinor Alupay.

I see the expansion of an Ilokano program in many universities all over the United States of America, and through it we recognize that the language of the Filipino diaspora, historically and as a matter of fact, still the language of the present diaspora, is Ilokano, with all its accents, with all its quirks, with its unique way of wording the world of pinakbet and jumping salad and dalidallot and the joys and sorrows of our people.

The full moon smiles. There is promise here. And the morning is bright.

A Solver Agcaoili
Torrance, CA

A Midnight Meeting Up at the Mandalay Bay in Vegas

It was a gathering that was filled with human mercies.

I was running late for the first-ever gathering of founders of Timpuyog dagiti Mannurat nga Ilokano iti Amerika or the Ilokano Writers Guild of America, a brainchild of many people, with Tito Tugade, Loring Tabin, Sinamar Tabin, Amado Yoro, Cristino Inay, Jun Alupay, Elinor Alupay, Pacita Saludes, Francis Ponce, and many others providing the best seed for the planting.

I put in here a qualification: that there are many others who have been sold to this idea from Day One. They include the younger generation of writers based in the homeland, to wit, John Buhay, Franklin Macugay, Roy Aragon, Lawrence Decena, and many of the pillars of Ilokano writing in Cagayan Valley. I must make this as a historically accurate statement: that this is a radical way of looking at Ilokano writing and creative production.

It is revolutionary and radical because Ilokano literature is not any longer created, produced, and consumed in the centers of power and commerce (read: Laoag, Vigan, San Fernando, Manila, and the universities and colleges) and that this TMI Filipinas is a statement unto each own: that the young are here to stay, that the young are now seeing red when there is red, that they are seeing stain where there is stain, and that the words of the fathers are not to be taken hook, line, and sinker any longer but must have to be enunciated again and again, phrased again and again, redefined again and again, with their claim to absolutism put under cross-examination and critical questioning.

We must here post this observation: that the convention of TMI in the Philippines had been held in Cagayan Valley, a place which theoretically is Ilokanized and that, therefore, the people of Cagayan Valley have come to appropriate the power of message-sending via the language of the settlers who were coming from the poverty-ridden lowlands.

This simply means that the Ilokanos of Ilokos cannot anymore claim monopoly and franchise over that language of internal migrants and that the same language has gone on to reside in the hearts of those who have come into and resided in its world. Such is the magic and seduction any language offers.

And then here at the Vegas, in Mandalay Bay Hotel, on that early morning hours of Sunday, August 6.

From a business meeting in Los Angeles that ran from the early afternoon hours to the early evening hours, I had to run to Las Vegas, a long drive that spans more than three hundred miles, one way (or the equivalent of 540 kilometers).

It paid that I was able to navigate that distance in four hours, on mountainous terrains in the Mojave towards the heart of that vast desert with its wild flowers and cacti and mountain air and isolation and long stretches of asphalt and cement.

That was a long drive in the evening, with all the lights blinking past isolated cafes and small towns on I-91 East and then on I-15 North. The omnipresent and omnipotent coffee from Starbucks and then from McDonald's had to be there to keep me alert and to perk me up so I would see the dark night.

I was closely watching the truck's mileage: now it was one hundred miles; now it was two hundred miles; now the famous road, Zyzyzyx loomed large and heading towards the sierras. The road with no vowels was there, reminding me of the first time that I came to Las Vegas one November day after attending a conference in Honolulu. From Honolulu, I had to take that detour to Los Angeles and then to Vegas, and then to the Disneyland that at that time was beginning to take pride in the spectacle of Christmas and fireworks that lit the dark sky, as dark as this same hour that I was gassing up the Toyota Tacoma truck I borrowed to get to Mandalay Bay, the place for the meeting up of TMI America minds.

And then by 11:20 PM, we were at the Primm Valley, the gateway to Las Vegas. This is Nevada country, I told myself. I felt that strange sensation of 'feeling suwerti,' a mentality that has afflicted all potential gamblers, as if this feeling suwerti thing is a plague afflicting all those dreaming of good fortune and good luck.

No, I told myself.

No, I do not want to touch any of the machines that are all coming in with their sacred mysteries about winning and losing.

I forced myself to have focus on one thing: to get to Mandalay Bay and there meet up with friends who were there waiting for me since that morning of Saturday, August 5.

There was something embarrassing here: I was not in the early ceremonies and rituals of laying down the groundwork for TMI America and its mission, vision, and goal. And it took me the whole day to get to the venue of our meeting up, with Tito Tugade checking me on my cell where I was even as I was navigating the starless night in the Nevada sierras.

True, we have laid down the infrastructure of the guild, international in character as we wished it to be.

But it is also equally true to say that we needed to meet up, pick each other's brains, and start from what needs to be done in keeping with that pledge to love the homeland, love the culture of our people, and love our Ilokano language.

At 11:30 PM, we were at Russell Road. I did not know where to turn, with me gazing at Mandalay Bay. I did not know how and where to get into that monstrous complex. So I kept on calling Tito Tugade and asking for instructions. The writer, of course, is not from the place and he could only help so much; he was later on rescued by Jojo Tabin, Loring and Sinamar's son.

As soon as I got to the Mandalay Bay after a merry mix of merry-go-round and confusion and frustration where to get into the hotel, I was able to hit it right, with the self-parking lot like an oven even in the early morning hours.

The pleasantries that came after the warm handshake were a prologue to the rite of courage we had to put on afterwards when we began discussing what gives in TMI America.

I missed Manang Pacing, or the Pacita Saludes of Iluko writing. She had come, but she had left for Honolulu where she is based. But without her knowing it, she left her energy, her spirit, her stature, and her endless advocacy on Ilokano life and culture--the very same things that we would plumb and build upon even as we welcomed the early morning hours of Sunday.

At that 15th floor overlooking the Las Vegas spectacle of light and the many darknesses swallowed up by the light, we would welcome the early morning hours with an early morning breakfast courtesy of Elinor Alupay. "Breakfast at one o'clock in the morning of a Sunday" could have been an apt title, the first time I had one like that in Las Vegas.

And they were there, the good people of TMI: Jun Alupay, Elinor Alupay, Loring Tabin, Sinamar Tabin, Tito Tugade, Marilyn Balingit, Guiller Iloreta, Jojo Tabin. They had not slept, not a wink, with the Tabins counting the hours of their being awake with all of their fingers, the three of them, and they did not have enough of the thirty fingers but needed other fingers--ours--to account how long had they been awake. It mattered too that they had to drive back to Salt Lake City in Utah a few hours after our meeting up.

Such was our hurried life but we covered the TMI ground a lot, covered that ground with a vision for Ilokano culture and life that would not die but would live forever; covered it with a mission that we would do all our darnest best to pursue that vision; and covered it with some concrete goals like this book project that we are about to do, a book celebrating the life of Ilokano migrants and immigrants in this land of exiles.

I uttered in the silence of my soul and heart: May the muses of our poetry bless us.

A Solver Agcaoili
Mandalay Bay Hotel
Las Vegas, Nevada
August 6, 2006

Tales of Summer with Tito Tugade

Even when in the grades, I had come across his name in the pages of Bannawag, my reliable every Wednesday bible.

And then this serendipity related to Tito Tugade's name and work got to be more dense and complicated as the years went by.

Paths crossing, I would say, this coming into an intersection of our lives, he a pillar of prose writing in the 60s and me, a neophyte of literary ambition

Before the activists began painting the walls of Elizabeth Marcos-Keon's provincial capital with political graffiti that ran the gamut of the activist's sense of purpose to denouncing the tangoing of the Marcos regime with the imperialists, I came across his book, in the dark corners of a dark bookstore passing itself off as one with its display of used book and new ones, many of them textbooks students used to learn the virtues of democracy and the need to get that Philippine education and then go fast to Mother America.

I was walking along Avenida Rizal Street in Laoag when I passed by that bookstore, rundown but selling all those stuff on literature, those songhits, notebooks with their artista covers that had Nora Aunor or Vilma Santos or Guy and Pip or Vi and Bubot in them, and other knick-knacks of student life including those early 1970's cheap albums and slum books you would fill out to write about your memorized definition of love and hobbies and ambition and like and dislikes.

A bibliophile to the core, I looked into the piles of books and there and then, I saw that Puraw a Balitok in hard cover.

I do not remember exactly the way it looked, but it could have come with a pre-computer enhanced drawing on it, a bit pastel or light brown, akin to the color of an upturned field in early summer.

I am not sure what made me realize I liked the book but I bought it from the only wealth I have scrimped for emergencies like this one. Even when I was young, I have looked at book buying as an emergency, urgent and something I would never have regretted, not a bit, not an iota of sadness even if it meant foregoing many meals.

I devoured the book, of course, read it many times, and I told the absent author: "I will make one like it someday." I had a name for the characters of my novel: the Agtarap clan of the rich and poor, of the loyal to the land and the traitors of the land, of the noble and the not-so, of the Ilokano and Ilokanized.

In my professional life as a teacher, I would go back to that book each time, and I would look for a copy in the libraries where I would teach. No luck.

And then I found one at the University of the Philippine Main Library in Diliman. Did Manong Juan Hidalgo and Manang Namnama Hidalgo made it sure that posterity would have its share of the wisdom of the fathers whose images, like all the pillars of Ilokano thought and art, we younger generations have to slay so our generation and the next would have a chance to exist? I do not know who had that long-view of making it sure that I would lay my hands on this book forever.

When I began to take interest in migration studies, I remembered Tito Tugade's ouevre, a masterpiece of imagination and the power of word and place.

I insist here the power of imagining a place, having learned, from hindsight, that the novelist never had the chance to go to Anchorage and other sites in Alaska prior to the writing of the book. How did he do it, this creation and recreation of a realistic place, I do not know. But imagination is imagination anywhere one goes. We have to rely on its magic and its capacility to seduce and enchant.

I was always awed and amazed at how stories came to be when one has returned home to tell them. But the problem with Tugade is that he did not return, he had not yet returned--because he had not yet left in the first place!

When I was a kid, we had a relative who had that power to look at our palms and would tell us all the good fortune that we would want to hear from him.

I would imagine the places where he told me I would go: "Makaad-adayokanto--you will go places so far away." I would relate myself to Tugade's character, that Cortez without the courts who would explore the world through his guts--or because of his guts.

And then I would travel, in the spaces of my mind, believing in the palmist wisdom of my relative and in Tugade's idea of a wandering Ilokano. It would be years before I discover Carlos Bulosan but in the end, I would be able to put together the pieces of the immigrant puzzle even if only in literature.

Was that the same way Tito Tugade invented Alaska in his mind? Never mind that there were atlases and geography and history books to consult. They are not the same as the places, the real McCoy. But to totally make us believe that you know the place the way you know the back of your hand is something else. This is plain maya, magic, fantasy in its most beautiful form.

Then a conference abroad came, requiring me to read up again on the novel and draw from there the sorrows and blessings of exile. I had not known Tito Tugade then and in my desparation, I asked Manong Juan Hidalgo where this guy could be found.

Manong Johnny said, "Exactly where he is, I do not know. He has not linked up with us for many years, decades even. But he has relatives in Dingras and they told us he has gone to the United States for a long time."

I was back to square one, zilch, zero, nothing. I worked on his novel nevertheless, drawing from there rich lessons on alienation and estrangement that happens to all exiles.

And then one day, this novelist showed up at the Los Angeles International Airport, ever ready to be picked up for a quick meeting with me.

Good fortune comes when it comes.

AS Agcaoili
Los Angeles, CA
August 4, 2006

The Alien and His Silence of Nothingness

It is dusk now, and the early darkness of the evening gathers in the hills.

I am here in a sister's living room, the ABC show, "Family," going on with its dissertation on relationships, love, family, and other quirky human ways, not exactly a monopoly of Americans but is the same complex relationships we find elsewhere, the same drama on love unrequited, the same turbulent family dynamics.

The living room is all mine at this time, no competitors, with all immigrant housemates on the loose looking for some means towards economic improvement somewhere while the local kids are busy with their last days of summer enjoying small talks and quiet games in the other part of the house.

There is a soft wind in the grass in the hills; I see the hills and their solemn and sacred way of playing with the leaves of rainbow showers that line the streets to the hills. Even in this dusk, I see the hills and their summer trees and the leaves of trees, dense and green, dance cheerfully to the subtle caresses of the sea breeze coming from the sea in Kapolei, from the placid waters of Pearl Harbor, and from the last farms standing in the West, towards North Shore, in those fields that make you romance earth and sun and memory of villages in Ilocos where there, people do backbreaking work without complaining.

Here I am, about to witness the renewal of the face of the earth with the promise of this new job, and a promise of more opportunities to write.

It is not easy, I know, this starting all over again in midlife. I sense the weight of the university job even at this time, with so many entanglements to let loose and attend to, demanding in me some solver-like talent in keeping with my maternal last name.

I have almost quit too, this writing bug, knowing that we have to be realistic with many things, like children's needs and other social obligations, this last one making your budget sometimes barely afloat, most of the time on the deficit side. Manila life, as you can see, is a blighted life, with the government running a campaign about taking in more green leafy vegetables to have a better life but the veggies cost more than what is allowed in the daily budget. So you better buy all those red meat, with all the commercial feeds in them and the chemicals and all forms of animal husbandry work that make the swine swell and the cows bloat and the chickens cackle as if they are drunk with all the antibiotics and growth enhancing hormones injected in them or mized with their feed. Everything is chicken feed with this cholesterol business and the meat makes you save some amounts for the rainy days ahead. Forget the pinakbet and the dinengdeng: they are too good to be true now.

The whole makes you see and see clearly: that too much of a blight makes you dull, really. It constricts your choices and your world that you want out the first time you get a chance.

I sit here, the windows all open and welcoming the later afternoon rain and moist. I open the lacy drapes and I watch the clouds move, the dark clouds promising some light drizzle in Ewa Beach or Mililani perhaps.

I look out the window, imagining the desire for new thoughts, for fresh beginnings, for loves fulfilled like this writing thing that has been my lot for so long, no, a kind of an artistic curse.

I am an alien here, in this alien land, and my silences have been of nothingness rooted in being an alien trying hard to be not an alien any longer, in being a stranger trying to get past estrangement, with my sensibility sometimes assaulted by the Americanized ways of kababayans.

Ha, I tell myself: "Good luck to you, imitators, parrots, and copycats."

I look at the dusk for the last time. This dusk is for real, unto each own, in its own class, no parrot, no imitator, no copycat.

This silence of nothingness is a fullness.

AS Agcaoili
Waipahu, HI
August 2, 2006

The Exile as Foreigner and Alien

In the biblical texts are many allusions to the experience of exile. Anawim, the very concept of the poor in Hebrew, for instance, speaks of the foreigner as exile or the other equation, the exile as foreigner: for the poor are exiles in the table of the rich, in the temple of the sacred, in the corridors of power. They are, simply, outsiders. And the fact that every immigrant is an outsider makes the allusion and equation a powerful case of insisting upon all nations to remain true to their social contract with their own people, the social contract to fulfill the promise of a good life for all their citizens and not only for some. An immigrant can only acculturate so much in a new land.

It is in this light that I view my own experience of exile in a land that is romantically exalted in keeping with the lens provided by a history of victors and a history of filmic imagination that has successfully kept secret the reality of homelessness and squalor in the big cities of New York and Los Angeles. The Skid Row in downtown Los Angeles, to me, is a window to the soul of a city and a county and a country: the city of Los Angeles, the county of Los Angeles, and the country of the United States of America, a country so powerful it can halt war or export it anywhere if it wants.

I have seen deprivation in some of these big cities, a kind of deprivation unlike no other except perhaps the deprivation in my own Manila, in the dumps of my merciless metropolis run by politicians as callous as the big fat flies of Payatas, that infamous garbage area where old and young men and women including innocent children try to live on the refuse of the powerful and the patrons of unearned privileges.

From the Chinatown side of the Empress Resto where successful Pinoys gather to celebrate anything worth the raucous laughter for a few hours of get-together with friends and family, I have seen A’ala Park.

I have seen its two faces, this A’ala Park of two sides, one ugly and one beautiful; its two characters, one good and another evil; and its two contradictions, one for spectacle and another for its denial. And indeed it is so. Because this is O’ahu, ‘the gathering place’ of the monarchs and the subjects, Hawai`i’s most commercially mined island where tourists come and visit, not by the dirty dozens but by the loaded millions, bringing in business and bucks and more bucks for the capitalists and industrialists who do not have to work so hard because there are many immigrants willing to do the dirty servile work so every tourist will have reason to come back and rest and relax and recreate. You of sugar plantations long gone and that is a lie, a big lie; the plantations have assumed a new form in hotels and in the tourist industry. The economic structure has remained the same.

I have seen A’ala Park in the light of day and in the light of lampposts, seeing no less than what the winds from the Waikiki have seen.

There is despair here, there is failure, and there is something of the tragic.

While we have the courage to say no to gluttony at the Empress, preferring instead to wrap the almost untouched food and bring it home, there is hunger in A’ala a hungry man’s spit’s throw away. The hunger of the hungry man is real and ugly and evil and merciless.

We wrap the food that is almost untouched by the diners on our table and yet we are not certain whether it is going to be consumed or someone in the household would ever take interest in it. For a day or two, perhaps, the food ziplocked for effect, it would stay in the fridge, and then it would find its way to the garbage bin and then to the city dumps, there to await its return to the earth, the food that could have been otherwise consumed by the homeless, who, when drizzle comes about and always unexpectedly, the wretched of the A’ala earth would scamper to safety.

Safety is inside makeshift tents of plastic sheets or blankets tied on four corners and then poked on the ground. The flooring is the earth, or the green grass, if the soil has not yet succeeded in claiming its right to breathe air after we have it artificially carpeted with something, just something, green. Remember that downtown Honolulu is a premier tourist city in the whole of the country and all unseemly sights, including the dark brown soi,l must look spic and span, green and lush, robust and inviting.

I look at all of these in the light of my immigrant experience. No, I have not been shown the way to El Dorado here. I fought it out to find my way to something grander, greater, better, with the fighting sometimes the prize and not the outcome of the fight itself. Here, in exile, we rest content with what you have got, or learn to do. Your ambition to ink up a social compact that will lift you up to something more meaningful other than a hard-scrabble existence remains an unyielding ambition. That is your only given, your amulet, your drive, your engine. You cannot afford to give it up.

You are in a foreign land and unless you have taken your oath of allegiance to the adoptive country, you will remain a stranger and foreigner, alien and immigrant. Oh your skin, height, and accent will always give you away. Unless chameleon is your next of kin and you have fully metamorphosed into a natural born citizen. Unless you have gone through the ways of the artistas in the homeland, with their salamat-po-doktor bodily trophies to completely and totally reinvent themselves. Unless you have undergone a real honest-to-goodness reincarnation. Unless you have become the number one exhibit for having been literally born-again.

I take a walk at the A’ala Park to make me remember the bounty that I will partake of and to make me see the difference between being wretched because of exile and those that have taken roots and have reincarnated to afford a gluttonous dining like this one tonight.

I think of Lazarus and his crumbs, the crumbs from the table of the rich who was giving a feast for his friends and the elect. I cannot eat. I swallow my tears. I swallow the lump on my throat to hide my cry for justice, for social justice to come about soon and fast.

Someday, I pray, I will do something. Someday, I remind myself.

I pray for courage.

A Solver Agcaoili
A’ala Park, Honolulu, HI
August 2, 2006

The Long Lights of the Late Afternoon Slant Over Leeward

It is the end of summer.

The long lights of the late afternoon slant over Leeward and its vast horizon, broad and brimming with the luminosity of the summer sun. I am on H-1 West and going home to Waipahu.

Waipahu is home now, at least for the time being even as I try to find something significant in this rerouting of the road to relevance, this relevance that makes my world go round and round and round.

From the freeway, I allow myself to be turned into a witness of the magnificence of everyday miracles, like this thought and reality of second chances to redefine the road less traveled where courage and faith are crucial to moving on and to making a difference.

Soon the fall season will announce its coming, as if it were a VIP—a very important visitor--in this ceaseless cycle of seasons the cosmos gives us in an eternal oblation to all of creation. You sense a posturing of the coming season, with the signs revealing themselves to the seeing eyes: some leaves turning light yellow, dark yellow, and then brown, as if in a rite all their own; some flowers on treetops wilting, give or take the rainbow showers in the late summer bloom.

Summer here in O'ahu is not the same summer season in the home country. There the ground comes to a parching, the fields cake in the heat of the summer sun, the leaves turn crisp and then all too dried up for any moisture, as if waiting for the coming of the late summer rains in May. Or fire, as in the wildfires of continental United States we islanders call as the Mainland.

I drive past the heart of Leeward before I turn to Kamehameha, the thoughts of home in the homeland and home in Waipahu commingling. I see the beginnings of fall.

The fall will throw its weight around as if it were a posturing honorable man in the home country, an honorable man without the honor for there, in the sad republic of our dreams of full meals and endless mercies of the universe, every honorable man left standing, in the real sense of the word, is nowhere to be found.

They are all gone to the grave or to new grounds—the real honorable men—not in the familiar ground of the homeland but somewhere, in some other country, in some other territory, in some other corner of the globe where to dream is still possible, and there, in those unfamiliar places, they try to live life the way it should be lived: life lived with substance.

Life lived in fullness but in simplicity.

Life lived with decency and self-respect.

Life lived in faith.

Life lived in fidelity to the stirrings of the spirit, to the urgings of the universe.

The lives of contemporary Filipinos are stories that are harsh, I tell myself.

The traffic flow slows down and I have split seconds to myself for these unyielding thoughts, lingering and lingering longer as I scan the fields below the hills.

Lush shrubs in their summer best dot the landscape in Leeward, the place, according to people, shielded by the wild mountain winds and strong sea breezes.

That is what a lee is supposed to be, I remind myself, having consulted my tattered Webster’s, an old reliable friend when English words come to assault my sense of familiarity with a language that was used to by the newest of the colonizers to colonize the Filipino people and their minds and their view of things, and which, towards the end, would be the same resource and asset we have got to send our teachers to Hong Kong and Singapore to become domestics and nannies of the rich.

It helps that some of our best teachers in the language, in science, in special education, and in math, are now returning the favor to Mother America by becoming teachers in schools where Americans do not want to go. But this is another story.

I look at the last lights of the late afternoon past Leeward. Soon I will turn to Farrington and the sun shall have gone to the mountains in the west in order to appear again in the mountains in the east the following day.

The cycle of life, I tell myself. The beautiful circle of life. A long light slants through my windshield. A porous darkness gathers in Kapolei, a new city they are building in the west, pass the mountains and toward the blue waters of the sea yonder.

I stop at the Filipino store to buy a phone card. I will call home, I tell myself while watching the sun go to its home to set and sleep.

AS Agcaoili
Waipahu, HI
July 31, 2006