(Note: This is an article published in the Honolulu Advertiser on February 20, 2008, and to my knowledge, was written by Mike Gordon, also of Advertiser, but for some reasons, had the byline as simply Advertiser Staff. There is a labor explanation to this issue which I do not wish to share in this blog.
I wish to thank Zenaida Serrano, who together with Mike, worked hard to put together this beautiful piece about the story of a poem, "Another Wife Dies and Goes Home to the Homeland," a piece that I wrote about midnight of that same night that I received an e-mail from Charlene Cuaresma about Erlinda Adviento's stabbing, allegedly, by her husband. The poem eventually declared its own independence from me and I had to let go, believing that one's work is not one's own in the end, with always the universal audience taking a piece of that work.
I had gone on to recite this piece in a number of occasions, this last one during the "Men's Voices" cultural show at Tenny Theatre, February 22, 2008. Even as I recite, whether in English or its Ilokano version, I get the same feeling of profound loss, so deep I can only have awe for the enchantment of word and its capability to transport us to new realities we previously do not know and countries of the sad soul we have not visited. For indeed, word, with its magic, is always a new country--or will always invite us to a new county, if only we tried harder to open up our sorrowing souls to its magic, its vast possibilities, its deliverance.
There is also a video excerpt of this poem. For details, go to:
Word of the murder arrived as author and poet Aurelio Agcaoili tapped on his computer keyboard, pouring out his soul until a small ping told him he had an e-mail. It was nearly midnight, the still time when he often greets his muse.
Another Filipina was dead, a victim of domestic violence in her Kalihi home. Erlinda Adviento had been stabbed to death, allegedly by her Filipino husband.
Agcaoili felt his insides curl.
This was last October, a tipping point for the University of Hawai'i assistant professor in the department of IndoPacific Languages and Literatures.
He didn't know Adviento, but he was familiar with the belief among some Filipino men that they had a right to beat the women in their lives. He'd spent much of the year coaching Filipino writers to tap into that topic.
"The issue to me was so concrete, it had blood on it," he said.
For weeks afterward, Agcaoili wrote about domestic violence in three different languages — English, Tagalog and Ilokano. He went to Adviento's wake where he read a poem about her death. He marched in silence around the Capitol to protest domestic violence.
On Friday he will join his group of Filipino writers to present their work at "Voices of Men," a free community event to bring men together to end violence against women.
A one-man play by Mainland comic and activist Ben Atherton-Zeman headlines "Voices of Men," and Agcaoili's group will take the stage with an appeal for peace, delivered in Ilokano, to Hawai'i's Filipino men.
"It's not going to be a walk in the park," Agcaoili said. "What we have here is one aspect of a culture which is so ingrained in a patriarchal setup that has not been questioned or interrogated or cross-examined."
Violent spouse abuse in the Filipino community has long concerned the Domestic Violence Action Center, which until last October was known as the Domestic Violence Clearinghouse and Legal Hotline.
In 2000, the organization found that four of the seven domestic violence-related homicides were committed by Filipino men against their wives. The number of homicides is not a statistic the organization tracks, but as a response, it created the Pilipina Rural Project to educate Filipino women about their rights and options.
The hope was to educate community leaders about the problem so they could help create solutions among Filipinos, said Helena Manzano, program manager for the project.
"The way the culture sees this is it is a family matter," she said. "A lot of the people who end up in the court system are surprised that it is a crime."
One of the leaders helping to educate Filipinos was Agcaoili, who wanted to include domestic violence awareness in a series of workshops with the Ilokano Writers Association of Hawaii. About 20 aspiring writers took part in educational and creative writing sessions between February and October last year.
Creative writing became a way to define the problem and share the experience.
"It's a nonthreatening way," Manzano said. "You can present it in a way that is creative or philosophical or you can present it in a performance and the audience can find something they can identify with."
The realities of domestic violence nearly overwhelmed the writers, most of whom did not understand the scope of the problem, but the work they produced was a surprisingly intimate look.
A few of them had firsthand experiences to share, which surprised Agcaoili. His workshop exercises were not intended to prompt personal experiences, he said.
"That would be intrusive and invasive, a confessional," he said. "I was not ready to be their father confessor. But it was so sacred and beautiful."
Workshop participant Lydia Abajo, a legal advocate for abused Filipino women, said the workshops were powerful. Some participants simply stood up and shared their stories, crying afterward.
"It actually opened the minds of the whole group as to what domestic violence is all about," Abajo said. "They saw some hope for those who are still in this type of relationship. Do not keep it to yourself. Seek out help. It is not the end of the world."
MOTIVATED BY LOSS
As a writer, Agcaoili knew the role art could play in creating social change. But he wasn't prepared for his own reaction to Adviento's murder.
An immigrant with Ilokano roots, Adviento was a 44-year-old mother of three who worked as a nurse in a convalescent center in Honolulu. She was originally from the same province in the Philippines where Agcaoili's ancestors farmed.
Shortly before her death on Oct. 28, she told her husband she wanted a divorce, according to court records. Adviento was on the telephone talking to a friend when she was stabbed in her heart and lungs.
Agcaoili still can't explain what moved him to write a poem about Adviento, or why he hasn't stopped writing about domestic violence three months later.
"When I got the e-mail, there was some kind of volcano in my chest," he said. "I thought I needed to get it out."
He thought about his own two daughters and felt a father's fear as he pondered "the evil in this."
It made him write. It makes him write.
"The issue of domestic violence is not a done deal; it isn't over for me," he said. "It is something that we need to be bold about and brave about and committed about. So I am not resting content. I am restless."