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

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