Black Friday on a High Note of Hope for a Pilgrim

Today is Black Friday in Hawai`i, as is the whole of the United States.

I cannot figure out the metaphor here, not yet, but it has something to do with shopping, this wild abandon that can only come about when there is so much purchasing power in the hands of the people who are not homeless, not starving, not unemployed, or not on welfare.

In short, Black Friday is for the moneyed--or for those who can afford its cost.

For yesterday, in Los Angeles, at the Skid Row, the Father Dollar did it again: that early act of late gift-giving: early because it was too early for the joys and pretensions of Christmas; late gift-giving because all one can do at this time is to prolong the agony of the desperate and the despondent in the face of the despotic acts of social injustices in that great city of glitter and gold, fantasy and illusion, glory and gumption.

For Los Angeles, like this Black Friday, is a seductive lover with nothing to offer but seduction--or that illusion that it does offer one.

For there, in the Los Angeles of our minds formed by popular culture, with those pyro-technique kind of films giving the coup d' grace for a bombastic understanding of what illusion can offer, a hilly portion of the city looms large, like some kind of a hill in the mind on a Black Friday when you have opted out not to go through this ultra-capitalist right to own and own and own without let-up.

From the hilly portions of the city is the Cathedral of the Angels coming clearly into view, with its proud spires reaching out to the heavens like arms outstretched, as if in perpetual prayer.

From there, with the Virgin of Guadalupe as your witness, a vastness of the landscape greets you with the matins of birds for effect and remind you of the hope that one can expect from the heavens, assuming that the people of, and with power, have not arrogated unto themselves, nor have they squandered, that hope that is supposed to be for everyone.

Even in Honolulu where I now count the days as a peregrine going on another peregrination what with a commitment to the teaching of a heritage language of more than 80 percent of Filipinos over here who descended from the Ilokanos, I remember the contours of that hope the Cathedral embodied when I was still trying to figure out what life awaited me as an exile.

The Cathedral was a fountain of fervent prayer and a temple of thankfulness.

There I lighted candles, the cheaper kind, one that could go with the dollar that was coming in as meagerly as the desire to stay put and watch the parade of stars and reside in that fantastic world of doubles and triples and megalomania, not to mention the kind of universes created by paid spin doctors who have the power to manipulate their own stars so that their stardom would appear aglittering even in that deepest of the dark night of the Los Angeles soul, whether that soul is a migrant's like my own or a long-term resident like Leah Salonga who saw to it that she would be wed in that temple of faith and love if one believed in its resident cardinal who cared for immigrants and cared for pedophiles in soutanes as well.

The Skid Row is that stretch of a road that begins from the eastern side of the city, from the side of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services and flows to the west before it hits the main thoroughfares that lead to the old Los Angeles with its ancient, almost primeval, charming, and warm European-styled brick buildings whose ground floors are center stage for what commerce offers: diamonds, McDonald's, and more diamonds. Or those boutiques that sell jeans the price of which is equivalent to the salary for one month of those selling them.

It was one of those shop-in-the-wholes that I bought a black, ivory rosary for a discounted price because the owners, a couple from South America, thought I could speak Spanish, and that they thought as well that I was one of those Native Americans of Asiatic ancestry that finally called it quits with the Temple of the Aztecs and crossed over to the borders and declared that from hereon, this side of the Americas was to be my home.

I said my gracias for mistaking me as of their own, although they probably descended from those with fairer skin, some frailes perhaps, like those of my ancestors on my mother side to whom I always throw an accusation that they were all descended from the landgrabbing Spaniards and Americans, with those maternal surnames hinting at giveaway clues for good measure: Martinez and Solver.

Contrast those surnames with my father's ancestors, possibly also a contradiction of history, with some Spanish blood streaking through in those veins of the Agcaoilis with a surname Hispanicized for convention, in keeping perhaps with that abominable Claveria edict for surname change for control and administration; with some 'Bombay' connection as a distant relative Joey Ayala the singer has told me in one conversation (yes, Joey Ayala is an Agcaoili on the mother side), and some Cordillera blood courtesy of our ancestral origins in the Piddig, Vintar, and Dingras border, those places that always had something to do with the Basi Revolt and with the revolt of Ari Almazan, border places peopled by the Yapayao and some other mixtures.

I deliberately passed by Skid Row on that noontime that I got my 'green card'--in a sacramental act of committing to memory the good things that the United States of America bestowed upon me as its another faceless, unknown newest immigrant.

I remember that long walk quite vividly, even after some years, because I took in all the details from both sides of the road on that noontime that I finally had that universally coveted card in my pocket, that card which is not green but pinkish, giving me some form of entitlement in this land of plenty and want, in this land of abundance and misery, in this land of hope and despair, in this land of tribulation and victory, in this land of rootlessness and rootedness, and in this land of song and lamentation. By golly, I worked for that card, and now, at that noontime, I had it. The immigration officer told: "You can go home now, back to the Philippines, without having to ask for another 10-year tourist visa! I am canceling your working visa now, so use your card."

All these memories are part of this one long road I am trekking as an exile in this land of immigrants and exiles and diasporic peoples.

And now this Black Friday: I chose to go away from it all.

No long lines for me to get that darn discount of ten-twenty dollars for a camera even of the best kind.

Or no long lines to buy something to fill up the balikbayan box that has been doubly taped to form a cube and is now gaping open, awaiting all the goodies the country churns out like hot cakes. Never mind that many of these come from China, with their lead content for an exercise at scaring consumers or making them aware of health hazards, or some economic ploy of some unseen hands, no one knows what the real thing is all about.

And never mind too that these could be cheaper at the Divisoria Mall, that crowded shopping plaza of all our Christmas hopes and merriment on that other stretch of the LRT 2 that spans the east side of the suburbs, in the Marikina Valley where the faithful tropical sun rises and where my home is, and the west, to the farther stretches of Manila Bay where the sun sets.

Black Friday shopping. A, forget it.

I have poems to write and memories to commit to paper. The lot of a pilgrim poet, peregrine as ever in this pilgrimage called the lonely life of an exile in these islands.

A Solver Agcaoili
UH Manoa/November 23, 2007

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