This is something that could somehow ‘ethnographize’ our life down here, in this Paradise that is now in peril, or so I pray it is not going to be. The number of the peoples of the Philippines that are here in Hawai’i is now about to hit the one-fourth mark of the total one million population and some pundits and experts on population growth or its opposite are saying that in a few years, the peoples of the Philippines shall overtake the Japanese. We doubt, however, if our peoples have that capacity to overtake anyone in terms of political clout and economic power, given the entrenchment of capital in these islands, with investment in the hands of the Japanese, the Koreans, and the well-funded United States Mainland chain of hotels and tourism-related establishments.
The peoples of the Philippines, however, have remained entrenched in the service sector, with about eighty percent of all tourism-industry related businesses staffed by them as busboys, waiters, waitresses, room attendants, valet parking attendants, food service crews, and other glorified but invented job positions whose descriptions could be elaborate but nonetheless tell us of how we have not radically altered our position from plantation workers in the fields to some sort of ‘plantation workers’ in other fields of capitalist enterprise. We are still counted over here as ‘hands’—hands still—and that painful reality has not changed so much from the ‘farmhands’ that we were more than a hundred years ago. We are still reified and commodified in this big machine called tourism. And about eighty percent of us are Filipinos, and about ninety percent, by some standards, are Ilokanos.
I was told that in the 70’s, there were only two or three Filipinos who had doctoral degrees and who were in the forefront of uplifting our people from all the profiling and the stereotyping that were prevalent in those days: wife-beaters, wife-grabbers, knife-wielders, and plain ‘bukbok,’ plain farmhands who had not other better thing to do or could think of anything better other than toiling under the sun, under the watchful eyes of the lunas.
The late 70’s, with Operation Manong and other initiatives, the situation and public impression changed somehow, with more and more of our peoples going to colleges and universities, and somehow changing that attitude that education does not matter because ‘kuarta met laeng ti birbirokem, adda man adalmo wenno awan—money is what you are looking for, whether you are educated or not.’
The succeeding decades brought in more intellectuals in the academe, political leaders, and public servants who learned to value their being Filipinos, immigrants or local born. Of course, even until today, those who perceive themselves as local, whether for real or by virtue of an active illusion as some Ilokano writers pass themselves off to be, have that temerity to look down upon the immigrants particularly those who just arrived—‘kasangsangpetna’ is the term in Ilokano but the English, ‘fresh off the boat,’ is more indicative of the hardship our peoples went through.
One of those who in the 70’s changed that public impression about us, by her commitment and scholarship, not to mention leadership in Philippine Studies is Dr. Belinda Aquino, one-time vice president for public affairs at the University of the Philippines. At the University of Hawai’i where she has held the reins of the Center for Philippine Studies for many decades, she has distinguished herself as one of our few no-nonsense and topnotch scholars in the social sciences. Her expertise in Philippine Studies is a legend, and if a fly-by-night scholar does not know his ABC and is before Lindy, this reincarnation of feistiness and keen mind we have seen among many of the Ilokano and Amianan women of our remote and contemporary history.
But do not talk about faith or religion with her. She does not give you a chance. Not a whit. Not even a whimper. And do not even try.
Then on December 15, 2007, at the GUMIL Hawai’i Christmas Party and Presentation of Candidates held at the Daprozas that GUMIL Hawai’i has informally invaded and colonized as its headquarters, Brigido Daproza, our Manong Brig who is president of this GUMIL chapter that has remained unsurpassed in terms of literary production—an honor that even the mother organization cannot lay claim to—asked Lindy to bless the food.
You guess what happened to the blessing that began so well, one that began in that so-Catholic of an epiklesis we read on those Last Supper reproductions when we were younger: "Bless us O Lord and these thy gifts..."
And then the blessing trailed off to something else.
Now, I can have something to remember Lindy by while I am on the road to chase the dreams in this Paradise. When you are with intellectual giants, you can only count your blessings--and the good old fun.
A Solver Agcaoili
December 16, 2007