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