THERE IS GEOGRAPHY OF PAIN IN AN EXILE and it is in that living memory he keeps locked in his head.

Or soul.

Or heart.

That geography has a thousand and one wars written all over its valleys and plains and mountain peaks and ragged lands and it is worse than the Christ’s Gethsemane, with its promise of a spring garden. There is no redemption here, except in the imaginings that come in full color and Bose-sound. The imaginings come in split seconds until reality comes to take its hold over your heart, resides there, and does not leave until you shoo it away with agua bendita that you gather from your tears.

Days and nights are the same when the exile, in his sorrow, welcomes the cleansing of the ducts, and the hanky does not come in handy but the sleeves of the shirt, your mucus coming into a happy union with the salt of your tears.

All the holidays are reminders of what you lack and what you need—and you know full well there is no way you can fill that except to sing alone and greet yourself with the best of good luck in the years to come. The heart of an exile beats in pain and labors in suffering in order to renew itself, one day at a time, just to renew itself so that when the seasons change, the exile can change by putting up that smile for another performance of exilic existence.

The geography of this pain comes with the exile’s territory or its absence, the territory having no space and having all the space: it is in the mind and it haunts and its haunting continues in all climes and times. And in all the seasons when the least that you feel is remorse, regret, and revenge—all three being the abstraction of having been born in a country that has promised democracy of well-being but has managed to deliver wretchedness as a naturalized way of life—the pain comes close to loving it, masochists that we are, we who have run away from the homeland in order to resist remembering, in order to forget with finality that we are Filipinos that have been blessed by the gods and goddesses but cursed for eternity by our political leaders who speak English and the national language of our greed, apathy, and selfishness. Erasures in the mind must be final as well. No palimpsest here. This is how to get even with the land that you have loved so much, with your contribution to two people’s power revolution of peace and quiet and so much hope. But it is a homeland that does not know how to return love for love.

From afar, I see this, and I feel sorry for all those who have been left behind. The CNN images cannot be real, with sacks of rice disappearing before your view, and in a country whose people cannot live without seeing the shadow of this staple food in a day. The self-flagellation of men before the Black Nazarene cannot be real as well: the political leaders have it all wrong, and here we are, these castrated men with their castrated wishes kidnapped by those who can say with ease, We have a democracy, we have a democracy.

But I feel sorrier for myself: I needed to go away so that in the blank spaces between servitude and servitude, I could find myself.

Of course, I know the trick of the trade—or so I thought: the finding of myself is in the creation of a metaphor that can both hide and reveal the hell I am going through as an exile. Some days I do find the metaphor or what passes for one; some other days, I don’t. Not a glimmer. Which is the point of imagining what my letters to my exilic self would be. Yes, to myself. For I have stopped believing that I could ever write to my countrymen, from Heidelberg or from Honolulu, with or without the blooming flowers with their riot of colors. Or the nostalgia that comes with seeing that there are many colors of the tulips in the Istanbul of beautiful Ruffa Gutierrez, close to the shrines where prayers are called for those who believe in miracles.

At the start of my exilic life, I have kept a journal.

This journal writing became my religion, perhaps part of my training in ethnographic work as a one-time academic trying to train others to look at ‘Filipinoness’ from the standpoint of our collective experience, with the seeing from within, with the scholarly and interpretive distance in the seeing a requirement to mark off when validity of knowledge begins and when uncertainty ends.

The entries in the journal are written in long-hand, with a variety of inks, any ink that can make permanent my thoughts in those flighty, flimsy moments of asking whether it was ever worth it, this trying to eke out a life somewhere, away from the familiar, away from the temple of the sacred that we know best: the sacred landmarks that we know will lead us to some concrete places, eyes open or shut.

In the strange lands, this is not to be the case. Maps on hand, more from Mapquest, downloaded from the ubiquitous and omnipresent Internet, those maps of a printout tell you which freeway to take in order to be lost anyway. It is not because the maps are printouts; it is because to be in a place is to call out to that soul to come and reside with you in that place. There is no ‘hylemorphic’ divide here, one where the body gets to be separated from the soul, whether the soul is warm or cold in a country that is warm or cold. Or else, a ceremony begins: you call out to your name, said so with clarity, and allow the wind to deliver the message to where the soul went. In that ceremony, you ask your soul—or four souls if you were Ilokano—to come back and join your body.

The cheap stenographic notebooks I bought from Staples pass off as a field journal to justify what I am doing in a foreign country where foreignness has lost its significance because here, in these exilic communities, we have replicated what we do in the islands yonder: the fiestas and the flores-de-Mayo festivals that advertise our medieval past, the coronation pageants of queens of each town where we hail to mark our being part of a feudal fiefdom of a municipality in our living but useless traditions, and the unending banquets in hotels that have morphed from the plantation days in Hawai`i and California, and the cannery days in Alaska. The banquets—always in five-star hotels where Filipino workers are paid a pittance—are the masks for gatherings that are called in the name of the sick and poor and the low-income-but-deserving scholars of the homeland. Call this blackmail, and you are right. We never change, even in exilic lands.

About the letters to myself—they are what challenge me to be honest about myself as a poor poet, with my poor way of parsing the pain I have always felt. How do you translate, for instance, your young daughter’s plea that says, in her e-mail, that on Christmas, they will have singing and dancing and carousing but my place on the table and in the living room will be empty and no one is sitting in these seats, always mindful that one day, one Christmas day, I will come and take my place? I can only cry in rivers, but I do not tell her: I do not tell my young daughter that in the six years of her life, I have only watched her grow and bloom into a child during her first year, long before she could utter her first word. In moments like these, you bite your lips, run to your corner in your apartment where loneliness keeps you perpetual company, and in the dark, you allow the quiet of the late hours to mark off the healing power of tears. You are a man, and those tears are not to your constitution as a man—or so you were made to believe by that society that has trained you to be tough and strong and unfeeling. Macho, you call this, and it is Marlboro toughness, with the Wild Wild West image of a man to reinforce the sturdy stuff in your bones and sinews.
But you are a father too, and the loving kindness of children makes you feel at a loss, guilty in many ways, guilt-ridden forever. But you have to be a prophetic father, to think ahead, think of the dinner table, think of tuition money, think of little joys, just little joys you can never buy with your teachers salary from the government that can afford to waste but not to give benefits to its public servants. Ah, you say. You have called it quits with your homeland—you have painfully learned how to quit your place of birth where you navel was left to visit you in your troubled sleep and in your aimless wandering. The blaming begins, and the hurting too.

You grab your first field notebook and with the black Sharpie, put in the date of the beginning of your reckoning of what it takes to be an exile: March 2003. The Bamiya statues had been blasted to smithereens and two years before, the Twin Towers had turned to dust, like exiles when they go back to the bowels of the earth. A ship from China docked in a cargo container with its load of illegal immigrants, many of them dead from suffocation in the long days of sea voyage. A freight truck in Texas yielded Asians that came into the country illegally. Establishments in Los Angeles were raided, many with Filipino workers abused by the Filipino employers because the workers did not have the proper papers. Walang papel, no paper. That is a world all its own, a taxonomy, a verdict, a sentence. And so having nothing, having no paper, you end up in the dustbin: you follow orders, you do not squeal, you do not say anything to another Filipino, you do not ever reveal that you were once a poet in the homeland, singing songs about a happy people, that you raised the Filipino flag in that euphoria we call People Power that gave us so much promise for tomorrow.

I have seen lawyers in the Philippines doing clerical work for bosses who know the meaning of abuse and how to capitalize on fear.

I have seen teachers doing errands for erratic households, with the rich WASP housewives treating the Filipinos with disdain as if the equality principle in the United States has never been declared. To top it off, I have seen how Filipinos have taken advantage of other Filipinos because those who just arrived—the bagong dating—just do not have the right to live like everyone else but must be reminded to stay close to his corner, and only in his corner.

On Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles, as in other big American cities, they make commerce out of this plight of Filipinos who just arrived. The Filipino American newspapers connive with these difficult circumstance, and permit themselves to become instrument for this kind of commercialization of this plight of our bagong dating, that, if not serving as photo albums of the big shots of the various Filipino American communities that can afford to wage war against each other, are a cut-and-paste journalism of the internet version of the bigger newspapers of Manila. You look into the classified ads section and you will see misery in the face: the hidden agenda of Filipino companies looking for employees, with the promise that their immigration papers could be arranged and worked out. In my despair, I cut those ads in 2003 and counted them until I lost count of how misery begets another one. At that time, I was working for my credential to teach English in America. I wanted to teach English to the immigrants like me so that they would have the chance to fight it out in this jungle we call exile, in this unruly business we call immigration, and in this modern abomination we call diaspora.

All these I kept in my journal, that by the start of the second month of my exilic life, when my first spring was about to go full blast with the flowers on mountainsides giving me hope that somehow I could make it here, I was writing furiously, finishing up to a notebook in a single week, writing all, details necessary and not so, confessing in these journals, naming my fears, christening my pains, and revealing that, indeed, the dark corner of the night can hide fully your doubts. The least that can happen to an exile is to start anew, with nothing he has on hand but boldness, daring, and that capacity to see that something good may come out of his sacrifices. I was a poet in my home country and I could not write anything with a joyful heart. In one email from a poet-friend, she complained: Your write sad poetry, your lines do not redeem at all.

I wrote back: I am parroting Pablo Neruda with his sad, sad lines.

Come on, come home, she wrote back.

I try to find the dollars down here, assuming I will be able to figure out a way.

You will lend me some when you will have them, the dollars?

Sure, I will, I wrote back, not sure whether I could fulfill that banter.

That was how we deal with each other, we poets who were always struggling—are still starving. It is one of those contradictions its settling I do not know and which I write about in my journal. Why should it be that a poet has to be so poor in my home country? How is it that hunger is always on our lips, that our pockets are always empty? Should the poet die of poverty so that his poetry will live in richness?

I take all those to heart each day, the pangs of hunger keeping me company in my search even as I allowed myself to grow more in faith. I have understood Weber’s idea of religion, and I went through that: I went to church, many churches, in fact. I discovered prayer again, and the days became longer, and the waiting more so, but the capacity to endure became a second skin: I could wait it out, or so I kept reminding myself. There were days I could just let it go by walking on the shores of Redondo Beach for hours and hours on end. I talked to the waves like an idiot. I talked to the wind like an imbecile. I talked to the blue and vast ocean with its hands and feet and eyes and ears: Bless me, ocean, bless me ocean. Life is a difficult text, the hermeneut says, and it is so. I welcome the difficulty and I take it as a matter of practice. Which I did.

Once, in the dead of winter, I was walking along Normandy Avenue that cuts across Wilshire but I was on 223 Street. That should mean 223 cross streets away from the heart of Los Angeles. This is Gardena, the city where I first lived, in an apartment that looks out into the path of airplanes departing and arriving at the Los Angeles Airport. The early evening cold got into my bones, even with my thermals. I was walking towards a library where I would get a copy of the United States Constitution. I needed that book to review for my California examination. I could not wait for the Metro bus: an hour was needed to wait. I did not have the patience to be standing on a bus station without the benches, with the cold getting your neck and ears and lips. So I walked and walked towards the west, towards Palos Verdes, to the hills that jut out of the calm and quiet sea whose other side, I know is my homeland’s peaceful and bountiful ocean, the very ocean we depend our life on. A man in tatters, shivering in the cold, approached me. I need a quarter, he says.

I looked for some quarters in my pocket. I knew I had some from the change for the orange chicken meal I bought from the Chinese resto. Here, I say. Get them.

You are from the Philippines, he asks.

You guessed it right.

I was a soldier, and I had been to Subic. I am homeless now.

I am sorry, I say. I looked at him straight in the eye and I saw fear in those eyes, until the fear became my own, and the fear has no name.

I could not work and I could not get any help, he says.

How so? I ask.

All talks.

Sorry to hear that.

You will realize more. You are new, I see.

I am trying to find a life here, scratch out one if I can.

You will. You have a good heart, he says, and he is gone.

Darkness had come so suddenly as is the case of winter in these parts. You do not know when you lose the lights, as the dimming of the unpredictable hours can come so quickly. As soon as I got home, I went to my makeshift altar, put fresh water on the clear glass that I use to invoke the spirit of life, and lighted an incense stick of cinnamon and Italian rose to start my ceremony of daring the gods. You guide me, I say. You guard me, I ask.

By then, I had been asked to start a program to train teachers to pass the first stage of a credentialing program in California. Here I saw them come, the teachers, some of them our best, who have come here, but having no one to turn to, had just contented themselves stacking up shelves at Walmart or Albertson’s. Or cashiering at a McDonald’s or Carl’s Jr. Or tending the old and sick people in foster homes at a wage below the minimum.

What have you been doing? I ask, in disbelief, but more so in exasperation of what exile can bring upon immigrants. Exile can be a life sentence, indeed.

We have no one to go.

You never want to go back to the classrooms?

We have continued to be teachers in our dreams.

Let us get back to work then, I enjoin them.

So I would drill them on the rudiments of the basic skills required for credentialing.

Saturdays would see us together at an office in Wilshire, churning out exercises after exercises, and building up some confidence among these ex-future teachers who are compatriots who would have never dreamed of going back to the classrooms and share their knowledge with the young. In the evening, I would be too exhausted to even try to sleep. So I would be awake for a longer time in anticipation of the Sunday morning that I could run to St. Philomena where there, the Samoans and the Filipinos and the Latino Americans would gather for the mass officiated by a Filipino priest with a thick Filipino accent, that priest who would never hide his being a Filipino but would announce it to the public. My week would be complete, and another week would start, in the same cycle of days and weeks and months that I have to pass to go past what exile is all about.

Many times, the nights were long, as were the shadows during winter and fall. There was gloom in days like this, with people in their thick jackets, with less people on the street in the neighborhood in Torrance that I moved to. I would look at the hours, and wait for that time that I could call home, always on the guard for the six-hour difference, in reverse, so that when it was day in the Philippines, it was night over here in this second city of my gallivanting and wandering life.

I would run to the liquor store to buy the phone card that promises more minutes than the rest of them, always knowing that that promise may not be true in the real sense, what with all the unseen cost that you have to pay. In California, your life must depend on phone cards if you wanted to keep your sanity. The choice is among those cards that cheat less. There is a customer service you can call when you feel you were gypped, but they would never return your call.

I scratch the card.

I allow the numbers at the back to come out in their glory. I need these numbers to dial home, get hooked up with the wife and children, but always mindful that anytime the line would be cut.

Hello, I say.

Hello, father, the young would answer back.

I am alone here. Mother is not here, so is ate and kuya. I am sick, so I did not go to school. I hope that you are here so you can massage my feet.

I would come home soon, anak, I say.

When would that be? It is too long, father.


When is soon?

Very soon.

Tell me when.

I control myself. I do not know what to say next. It is night in Torrance, about 12 midnight, and I see the night sky with its brilliant stars. Over at the west, I see the moon looming large.

Is it night there, father?

It is night here.

Are there big stars? Are there beautiful and brilliant stars?

There are a million stars.

Can I see them?

When you come here.

Wait, she says, wait. I run to the window and see what is happening outside.

Ok, I say, and the silence between us is stillness.

It is raining over here, pouring rain, torrential rains, she says.

I see, I tell her.

In your house, father, is it raining too?

I choke. How do you say you are so sorry to a child you have left behind but is now coming on her own, with her first word you did not hear but is now using a full language despite your absence? You have never contributed any word to that language, and here you are, in self-exultation, here you are, with your daughter, able to tell straight in the face that you live in another place and time, and you live in another house.

Her word caught you by surprise and knifed through your chest.

Yes, you say, I live in another house now.

You take your journal and write all of these to your self. These will be your letters. Your secret and sacred letters to your exilic self.

A solver Agcaoili
Hon, HI
Apr 29/08

Intro: Inspirational Speaker Cornelio Acheta

(My introduction of Mr. Cornelio Ancheta, the inspiration speaker at the 2008 B. A. Ilokano Scholarship Banquet held at the Luau Garden of Hale Koa Hotel, Honolulu, HI, April 25/08)

Ladies and gentlemen, good evening:

It is my singular honor to introduce to you an advocate of the struggle for space in the name of Ilokano language and culture in the State of Hawai`i.

They say that you see a warrior when he is before you—and the seeing comes complete when he joins you in the task to wage a struggle for a cause grander than yourself because he understands, and understands fully.

That is how I met our inspirational speaker, less than three years ago, our meeting first in name as I was running a newspaper in Los Angeles while he was starting his own in Hawai`i.

Warriors, indeed, are seeking each other.

One common friend, Professor Precy Espiritu, made it sure that we meet and one day, when I took the helm in running the Ilokano Program two years ago, I finally met the man.

I look at him straight in the eye and there I saw the Ilokano warrior in him.

This is him, I told myself. He is our advocate, I assured myself.

To him we lay bare the soul of the Ilokano Program, I told myself, and which I did.

Until today, this advocate has not left us unaided.

A writer through and through, he had to find a way to vent his inspiration in ways that are of service to the Filipino community in Hawai`i and the United States in general, and to the Ilokano community in particular.

Like our extraordinarily gifted and culturally sensitive students of the Ilokano Language and Literature Program who are here, our speaker takes all the gifts of knowledge to heart, collapsing the boundaries of human knowledge, and looking to all the sources.

Trained in agricultural engineering for his bachelors and his masters under a government scholarship, we have an engineer with us, a scientific mind that is able to see through the chaos and the randomness in our midst, and perhaps spelling out the possibilities for a plausible critical path to alternative ways of looking at our Ilokanoness.

He is not only a scientist but a man of letters: an editor of a technical newsletter, a writer for an agricultural magazine, and a contributing writer for a Manila daily, editor of Ka Leo o Maui, and editor of a chamber of commerce newsletter.

When he moved to Hawai`i, he began writing for a Filipino newspaper until he put up his own, the Fil-Am Observer where he serves as publisher and managing editor.

When I first met him, I told him I needed his help. We were then starting the Nakem Conferences, and lo and behold, our speaker lent us his hand, and has not stopped doing that.

There were evenings we would talk on the phone, talking about possibilities for the Ilokanos, and always with the encouraging tone, he would always remind me that he will always be there for the Ilokano Program.

It is with this gratitude, therefore, that I am proud to say that we have found in our speaker an audacious hope, this hope reminding us that we can do something for the Ilokano people in Hawai`i.

Tonight, his son and wife are with him. Ladies and gentlemen, may I be honored to introduce to you Mr. Cornelio Joaquin Ancheta.

Ilokano: Seed of the Iluko Heritage

(By Cornelio J. Ancheta, Publisher and Managing Editor, Fil-Am Observer, delivered during the 2008 B. A. Ilokano Scholarship Banquet of the UH Manoa Ilokano Language and Literature Program, Hale Koa Hotel's Luau Garden, Hon, Hi, April 25/08; free translation from the Ilokano original into English by Aurelio Solver Agcaoili)

Esteemed members of this assembly, honorable friends, ladies and gentlemen in this happy occasion:

It is my singular honor to have been invited by you in order to give an inspirational talk in your gathering.

I thank you all for this extraordinary opportunity you gave me tonight.

Hence, let me share with you my thoughts about being Ilokano, about this concept we call ‘Ilokanoness’.

My thoughts come from my own experience as an Ilokano, an experience replete with introspection and reflection.

Let me start with what the see of this occasion is all about: the recognition of the three scholars in the Ilokano Language and Literature Program of the University.

For me, this celebration sown in the wisdom of the Ilokano is a mirror.

This is a way by which we get to be united so that together we recognize the ability of the Ilokano.

It is also a way by which we demonstrate that the Ilocos, in that place in the Philippines that we left behind or the Ilocos that is in our dreams is the Ilocos that is home of our heroes and our great people.

Because of this, I give you all my warm greetings.

You invited me to give inspiration. But I feel instead that you are the one giving me inspiration.

This recognition of all our students in the Ilokano Program proves of the triumph of our action of giving importance to our Ilokanoness.

I say, therefore, with joy: You students and you who are teaching these students are exemplars of wisdom and brilliance.

To the young people here, to you I give my salutations.

To the parents of these young people, we give you are greetings.

For us parents, we keep in our chest one dream: that let it be that our children will be like your children who are being honored tonight.

Let me express one metaphor: about you being a seed.

This seed will germinate and bloom.

This seed will become the parent of other seeds, other blessings, and another future that is bright.

And in the passing of time, this same seed will possess the knots of history—a history that puts together all of time and challenges Ilokanos must hurdle in all the corners of the world where they find themselves.

In our comparing our being Ilokanos to that of the seed, there is meaning in here: strength and endurance.

Because we know: inner strength is Ilokano’s virtue even as we face history. And that inner strength is entwined with endurance.

For me, these two—strength and endurance, are the cornerstones of the other virtues possessed by the Ilokano, virtues that she or he must take good care of, virtues that each Ilokano must sow in his or her heart and soul.

Let me start with mindfulness: We Ilokanos take good care of our honor and principles. The Ilokano who is mindful takes honor as a pillar of his character. In all of time, you can depend on him. In the time of need, he is there. He is not careless and his word is one.

Second is his loving nature: yes, the Ilokano loves his neighbor. In Hawai`i, isn’t that love is that which that binds us? Love is the reason why we help each other.

Third is our sense of sacrifice: yes, sacrifice in the face of difficulties and enduring in work. The Ilokano is industrious. He figures out the hurdles he goes through. He is strong in his facing of the challenges of life. His brilliance and wit are his weapons in the pursuit of his goals.

Fourth is the purity of the person of the Ilokano; so also with the rectitude of his deed and word. He has good lessons and attitudes. He knows what is right; he avoids that which is not right. He is orderly, clean, and obedient.

Fifth is his humility: he knows his station, and he knows his place. In this way, he knows how to give proper respect; and he knows the road to humility. He is not boastful. And he knows where he comes from.

Sixth is his friendliness: he knows how to deal with others, he knows that he is not the only person on earth, and he knows that it is only through friendship that his thought, life, and experience could get to be enriched. And that is what he gifts others with.

There are many other qualities of the Ilokano—and we can talk of more/

But for our gathering tonight, these are more than sufficient so that we realize the reason why we give our congratulations and salutations not only to these three awardees but also for all of us who are gathered here.

I know this: you came here so that, like me, you will become a witness.

I testify to the growth and progress of the Ilokano Program of the University.

This is the reason why since the start of Fil-Am OBSERVER, our newspaper, I opened its pages so that the newspaper could serve as an instrument of the Ilokano Program of the University.

I did not hesitate, not a bit, when our friend Ariel asked me for my support for the Ilokano Program and until now—and up to the extent we can—the Fil-Am OBSERVER will always be on the side of the Ilokano Language and Literature Program of the University.

I am very much aware of the challenges fraught by the Ilokano Program at present.

But I am also aware that with us helping together we could achieve many things.

You probably know one good news now: that through the Ilokano Language and Literature Program of the University another Ilokano Program is going to be inaugurated at Maui Community College. I am happy to announce that I will take part in executing this program, with the Filipino Working Group in Maui as our collaborators.

To all those in this audience: I challenge all of you to support the Ilokano Program.

To all the visitors: this Ilokano Program is the proof that we cannot just leave behind our language and our culture, the dwelling place of our soul.

I know that the Ilokano Language and Literature Program needs help and I opened the pages of our newspaper.

This is my dream now: that you will be touched, that in your thoughts you will see how important this work is so that all of us Ilokanos will not hesitate to come to the aid of the Ilokano Program, a program that we are proud to have in the entire world.

It is only in this University that we have this.

We should not permit that this will be lost, be taken away from us.

To the three scholars, we hope that you will come back to the community of the Ilokanos and that you will serve our people in the coming days.

To you we give our blessings.

To all of you, long live!

Thanks you and good evening to all of you.

Welcome Remarks-Dumanonkayo

(Welcome remarks, B.A. Ilokano Banquet, Ilokano Language and Literature Program, University of Hawai`i at Manoa, Hale Koa Hotel Luau Garden, April 25, 2008)

Madaydayaw a tallaong, mararaem a kabinnulig iti daytoy a dangadang iti nagan ti pannakaitan-ok ti kultura ken laing, lengguahe ken kinatakneng ni Ilokano, ken ipatpategmi a kakadua iti pannakaitandudo ni kina-Ilokano:

Lumaemkayo iti daytoy a taripnong, iti daytoy a pannakikammayet, iti daytoy a pannakikadua kadagiti adalantayo tapno rambakantayo ti nagpaiduma a laingda.

Dagitoy nga adalantayo ti mangilalaem kadakayo—ket sipapannakkelkami a mangipresenta kadakayo dagitoy nga agtutubo.

Iti nagan ti program ti lengguahe ken kultura ni Ilokano, iti nagan dagitoy nga adalan, iti nagan dagiti amin a tumutulong kadatayo tapno iti kasta ket maiyallatiw dagiti rumbeng ken maikanatad nga adal kadakuada, napnuan ragsak ti adda iti pusomi a magpadanon kadakayo.

Babaen ti kaaddayo iti daytoy a taripnong, siaammokami, ken sinanamakami, nga agtultuloy ti pannakapasantak ti kultura ken padas dagiti Ilokano uray sadinno a lugar ti pakaipalpalladawanda.

Narigat ti mangmuli iti panunot ken isip.

Narigat ti mangipasagepsep kadagiti adal a no dadduma ken baniagan kadagiti ubbing a henerasion.

Narigat ti mangilaban iti kananakem no kasta a nagkaadu dagiti pagel, dagiti parikut, dagiti makaigapu no apay a saanen a maapresiar ti kultura a nagtaudan.

Ngem la ket ta ditay mamingga a mangay-ayat iti kinaasinnotayo, la ket ta agtultuloy ti panangay-ayattayo iti pagsasaotayo, la ket ta agtultuloy ti panangiyalikakatayo iti kulturatayo, dinto kaano man aggibus ti natakneng a kinaasinnotayo.

Ngarud, babaen iti daytoy a selebrasion, babaen iti daytoy a padaya, itedmi kadakayo ti nabara a kablaaw iti idadar-ayyo iti daytoy a programatayo a mangitan-ok iti laing dagiti adalantayo.

Ta dayta a laing a maitan-ok ti pakabirokantayo iti salakantayo.

Ta dayta a laing a maitan-ok ti mangipaneknek a saan nga asiasi ni Ilokano ket babaen iti bendision ti biag, masarkedanna amin dagitoy. Iti udina, agbiag isuna nga agnanayon.

Iti udina, agbiagtayo nga agnanayon.

Dumanonkayo amin—ken Naimbag a rabiiyo amin.

Esteemed guests; honorable co-advocates in this struggle to continually value the culture and wisdom, and the language and dignity of the Ilokano people; and friends we love and who are with us in this struggle for Ilokanoness:

Please do come and join us in this gathering, in this act of unity, in this celebrating with our students so that together we recognize their extraordinary gifts.

These students will do great things in our name—and we are proud to present them to you tonight.

In the name of the language and culture of the Ilokano, in the name of these students, in the name of all those are who are helping us out in order that the knowledge that is just and proper and right is transmitted to our students, our hearts are filled with joy in welcoming you all.

By your presence in this banquet, we know, and we hope, that the culture and experience of the Ilokano will continue to be nurtured and nourished wherever the Ilokano finds himself.

It is not easy molding minds and thought.

It is not easy transferring the lessons especially so when these have become strange to our students, those who belong to the younger generation.

It is not easy fighting for the will when there are a lot of obstacles, a lot of problems, and other reasons why the culture we are born into is no longer appreciated.

But for as long as we do not stop taking pride in who we are, for as long as we continue to love our language, for as long as we continue to care for our culture, our dignity and self-respect as a people will remain.

Therefore, through this celebration, through this festive occasion, we give you our warm greetings even as you come and join us in this gathering that is meant to glorify the talents of our students.

It is in that talent that is glorified that we find redemption.

It is in that talent that is glorified that proves that the Ilokano can transcend himself, and that, with the blessings of life, he might be able to hurdle all problems.

In the end, the Ilokano will live forever.

In the end, we all live forever.

Welcome—welcome—and good evening to all of you.

A S Agcaoili
Hon, HI

The Ilokano Language as the Dwelling Place of the Ilokano Soul

(Opening remarks, 2008 Ilokano Drama and Video Festival of the Ilokano Language and Literature Program, University of Hawaii at Manoa, April 12, 2008, ART Auditorium, UH Manoa, Hon, HI. Original in Ilokano, and delivered in that language; English free translation flashed on screen for non-Ilokano viewers.)

Good morning to all of you, ladies and gentlemen:

They say that language is the dwelling place of the soul, that in language is where our identity is kept forever.

This is the reason why at the end of each semester, the Ilokano Language and Literature Program of the University of Hawai`i, holds this drama and video festival, a cultural show that highlights our Ilokano language, our Ilokano literature, and our Ilokano culture.

With pride we dedicate the hardships of our students so that in that virtue attendant to that pride we have, we hope that our students will be moved to continue with that feeling seeded in their heart.

That feeling is none other but the premium value they give to the Ilokano language they have inherited, that despite the fact that this is no longer their first language, they have shown relentlessness in studying this language so that in the end, through the sacred ritual of going back to the home of language, they are able to call back their wandering souls.

Even as we tell these to our students, we tell this same thing to ourselves.

Because we are also a party to the covenant with our identity as a people, the covenant that endlessly reminds us that this is our moral responsibility, that this is our obligation—this valuing and pride that we have to give our Ilokano language.

To all those who came to take part in this celebration, we pray the living ember of your help, support, and caring kindness will never be extinguished.

Your very presence today confirms your support to what we are doing in this program.

We thank you for being with us. Good day to all of you.











A S Agcaoili
Hon, HI
Apr 12/08

Struggle and Social Justice in the Name of a People's Language

There are limits to nationalism, and thus there are limits to that illusory idea of a national language. The key question here is this: what is that 'nation' that is invoked here? And whose 'nation' is this nation? When a nation-state is made up of many 'nations' and not one, how does this 'nation' in the 'national language' play out?

Malapit na ang Matagal na Pag-uwi

Malapit na ang matagal mong pag-uwi, sabi ng bunso. Ang gulang ay sa mga manika, mga luto-lutuang walang apoy, at mga kuwento nga pag-asa at pagkaaliw sa mga pantasiya, mga leyenda, at mga kuwentong bayang ang mga tauhan ay nakakakita ng kinabukasan, nakakaalam ng nakaraan, at nakakaintindi ng kasalukuyan.

Nasa kabilang linya ang bunso, sa dulo ng kulang-kulang na walong libong milya ng agwat sa panahon at pook na nasa aming pagitan. Sa aming exilikong buhay, ang panahon ay distansiya rin, tulad ng distansiya ng mga isip at at pagliban sa marami nang taon na wala ako sa kanyang kaarawan maliban sa kanyang unang anibersaryo ng kanyang pagsilang. Ilang buwan pa pagkatapos nito, sa simula ng tag-araw sa bayang sinilangan, tumulak ako sa ibang bayan upang makipagsapalaran. Mula noon ay ang paulit-ulit na pag-awit ng pagbati sa kaarawan sa pamamagitan ng mga piping salita ng birthday card, o, kung nagkataon na merong phone card, ay sa telepono sa mga bilang na minuto na kung pumatak ay tila metro ng manunubang taxi sa Kamaynilaan.

Malapit ka nang umuwi? tanong sa akin. Ang kudlit sa dulo ng pagtatanong ay isang pagkamangha, hindi makapaniwala na makakauwi ako sa taong ito, at tulad ng nakaraang taon, ay makapagtatagal ng kaunti upang muli siyang maisayaw sa mga gabing di makatulog, o makuwentuhan ng tungkol sa pag-exilo ng mga Israelita sa Pagilian ng Poon upang magpakasakit ng maraming taon, at upang sa dulo ng naratibo ng pagpapakasakit ay ang paglaya mula sa kamay ng malupit na Faraon.

Malapit, sabi ko. May tinik sa aking lalamunan, may punyal sa aking dibdib.

Critique: In the Crucible of Struggle


By Aurelio Solver Agcaoili, UH Manoa

(Presented at the Kumu Kahua Theatre, Honolulu, Hawai`i, on the occasion of the public presentation of the play, “The Romance of Magno Rubio,” by Lonnie Carter, an adaptation from Carlos Bulosan’s “The Romance of Magno Rubio,” April 1, 2008)

In the Ilokano language of his soul, Magno Rubio, the four-foot Filipino boy who fell in love with Clarabelle he has not seen but only imagined like a phantasm, he could have said:

Nakurapay a babai
(Marigatan, kakaasi)
Masapulna pay ti kuarta.
Babassit ti addina,
Dida pay agsangapulo,
Adu a gatas agindulto
Adu a karne iluto
Balitok siak ti agbirok
Utong pay siak ti agsirok

Kasla nuang agtrabahoak
Kasla aso agbiagak

Nalpasen ti gisantes
Panag-aapion naktidiables
Panagsasanohorian di aglabes

Mangrugi, mangrugi

Magnoka a dungritan
Iti Ingles ken Muddy Man
Naikali iti daga,
‘nak ti baka
Sueldom ket nalaylay a lechuga
Sige latta
Sige latta
Di agsardeng
Magno a babaonen
Maysa, dua
Tallo a kaban asparagus nagian
Uppat, lima, innem, pito
Ti brokoli maikawalo
Sigarilias, mustasa, istroberi lima ken sangapulo
Sippaw apol, maysa pay nga apol
Timbangem, kurang, dayta’t trobol.

Nateng, nateng
Nanateng a nairteng
Buras a buras a barus kas Hudas
Itudom, itudom kas kasilias
Sige pay
Sige pay
Buenas no adda pay.
Tallo, lima, pito, agtutuonen a tarongen
Kadakkel ti singkamasen
Ti ayatko a tumangtangken
Ima laeng pangagas
Karantingam agburas
Maysa, maysa, sibulias
Dua, dua, letchugas
Uppat, ti gardilias
Innem, ti mansanas
Tallo, ti mustasa
Walo, ti patata
No malpas, ikipas.

Dua, samatis
Bawang ibarandis
Iraman ti sitaw
Adda latta ti buttaw
Burasen ti tabungaw
Ti aba, iparabaw
Di umunay a pagtalawataw

Manen dagulliten
Sangapulo a takalen

There is exuberance in this play—its meaning and relevance and import in its being played, acted out by the five actors, with the director’s sensitive signature in the robust juxtaposition of movements and sounds, with life lived in pain leaping from the page as the actors say the word to reveal the hidden in the sad hearts of the Filipino laborers.

Whoever said that the meaning of a play is its being played? The ‘hermeneuts,’ I think, and one of them, perhaps, is Hans-Georg Gadamer when he ‘problematized’ what texts are, and what cultural texts are as expressions of the historical and linguistic experiences of people, also called their 'lived experiences'.

This ‘playing’ of this play is commendable, and it exudes the kind of education that we Filipino Americans or immigrants need to always remember even as we negotiate spaces we can negotiate, however difficult the negotiation is.

There is one problem though: The speech denied of Magno Rubio. And this problem is not to be dismissed.

For one, we have permitted him to speak English.

And now we are passing him off as Tagalog-speaking, thus, depriving him of his tongue, his language, the intimacy of knowledge that he has to remember in order to make that remembrance a lesson for the future, a lesson that could, somehow, teach him the rudiments to self-redemption.

No, I refuse to believe that Magno Rubio, in the depression years, and even today, in Hawai`i, in Stockton, in Anchorage, and in Agana, is Tagalog-speaking even if he knows how to blurt out his greetings in Tagalog.

For pain is better said, and said with more honesty, in the language of one’s soul.

And that language can only be afforded by the speech one has heard when one was young and when the world was beginning to open its magic and secrets to that person.

Anywhere we look at it, Magno Rubio is Ilokano—and the historical accounts from Bulosan to Manuel Buaken, one of the underrated by brilliant chroniclers of the Ilokano exilic experience.

In the June 1933 issue of the Philippine Magazine, Emeterio Cruz wrote of Filipino worker, even as he became part of the predatory system of capital and labor in the United States in those times: “The men toil like slaves from morning till night and are often called upon to work overtime. Some are paid by the piece—three cents for handling a cooler of 168 cans, and others are paid fifteen cents an hour. The work might not be so bad if the workers were well-housed and fed, but the opposite is usually the case, as regards the ‘Asiatic’ workers at least. They are miserably housed in the crowded quarters and the feed is of the poorest—salted fish or meat and rice, supplied by the labor contractor. Only when the contractor’s supplies run low is salmon ever eaten…”


It is from this perspective that I read the “The Romance of Magno Rubio” the play and “The Romance of Magno Rubio” the short story.

Knowing Carlos Bulosan and the difficult historical context in which he produced the literary documentation of the sufferings of Filipino exiles in America before, during, and after the depressions years, I cannot read the play and the story as a Barbara Cartland romance or a Hollywood-ish take on love or what passes for one. At the very least, here is an allegory; here is a political metaphor on that bad, bad condition Filipino laborers had to go through in order for them to keep on with the dream of America, with the dream of Clarabelle, veritably a symbol, or a clue to a symbol, in this story of deprivation and wretchedness.

I am taking ‘romance’ and its possibilities in a broader context, and using the cultural logic of capital and the oppression the results from it, this ‘romance’ becomes an instrument to mediate a social discourse on human labor and its tragedies in the face of the oppressive economic relationship between those who have the money to buy what love they can buy, or its substitutes, and those who only have their sweat and strength to sell.

Magno Rubio, thus, is not the ‘foolish’ simpleton from the provinces of the Philippines who can easily be swayed by what a ‘lonely hearts corner’ of a magazine can promise: a beautiful, blonde, tall lady who is out there to win the hearts of the lonely Filipino boys in the plantations.

I insist: that Bulosan must have known this story from a plantation worker.

For the unsaid stories of Filipinos in Hawai`i, California, Alaska, Arizona, Utah and other places Bulosan had gone to scratch out a life from the hard earth speak of tragedies like this one—a tragedy because one has believed that America is real and that the American dream is worth the pursuit.

This is the reason why Filipino laborers came to America, at least from an economic sense: that El Dorado is found here, the mountain of gold, however fastastic that is.

But this is the same reason why many of them ended up in tragedy that came from the disillusionment that, indeed, “America” as an ideal of democracy, justice, equality, and fairness, is not so much a place but is, in fact, in the heart, as his memoir or novel or critical ethnography, “America Is In the Heart,” declares.

Bulosan’s story which is appropriately and truthfully rendered into a play by Lonnie Carter, is an attempt to document his initiation into the difficult life of contract laborers—and in today’s context, overseas Filipino workers, whose labors provide the backbone of the Philippine economy.

The 'buena suerte' of the Philippines is that we have the contract laborers propping the economy, with remittances amounting to $14.4B in 2007, the amount representing 10 percent of the gross domestic product, the more reliable way by which any national economy could be measured.

Estimates from the Philippine government put the contract laborers—the OFW, or the overseas Filipino workers like Magno Rubio—at 10 percent of the population, the percentage translatable to somewhere between 9 and 9.5 million. In 2007, more than a million (one million 73 thousand) left the Philippines for work abroad.

The $14B remittances of Magno Rubios came largely from the United States, Saudi Arabia, United Kingdom, Italy, United Arab Emirates, Canada, Japan, Singapore, and Hong Kong although Filipinos are found in 181 countries all over the world.

Philippine national census data for 2004 reveal that Filipinos in the Americas constituted the highest number, with close to 4M, with a little bit less than 3M as permanent residents in these countries.

This exportation of warm bodies as matter of tacit governmental policy because of its failure to create jobs began in 1974, officially, during the most repressive years of the Marcos dictatorship, but we know that we can trace this warm-body export policy even before that, with the 1906 importation by the Hawai`i Sugar Planters Association of plantation workers from the Ilocos, initially, and from everywhere else, eventually, including the Bisayans who came in 1908.

This phenomenon has given rise to some metaphors on the exilic condition of Filipino labor, some of these flatter the contract laborer, to wit, “Global Filipino,” “Global Pinoy,” “Global citizen,” “at home in the world,” and “new heroes,” this last one because their remittances keep the Philippine economy afloat.

On the other hand are the sad realities, the same ones we see in Magno Rubio as he say, in exasperation, “Sige lang, sige pay!” Some of the metaphors are about “left-behind households” and “re-integrees,” those who need to be equipped with the social skills to get back into Philippine society, hence, reintegration.

The play, thus, is a refracted reflection of what has happened—yet this event continues to hold in Hawai`i and elsewhere: in Alaska’s canneries, in the farms of Central California, in the orchards of Washington State, in Guam, in Arizona, and many other states.

In Hawai`i, the Magno Rubios who are dreaming of a romance fulfilled, a love coming into fruition in the Clarabelles of their dreams, are in hotels and resorts and other service industries. The hotels are the new plantations and canneries, and the Ilokanos—the Filipinos—have remained the laborers.

One hotel in downtown Waikiki, for instance, has not treated its employees well, and the laborers, 85% of them Filipinos, are the new Magno Rubios dreaming of their Clarabelles. We hear that plaintive, almost a mantra of resignation, "Sige latta! Sige latta!"

I read this play as an act of critiquing where justice is not served. This play clearly demonstrates the layers and layers of injustices in this country and elsewhere.