Thursday, June 26, 2008

Bushwhacking Gloria

It’s the most popular item on the HuffPost, with nearly 200,000 viewers and nearly 1,500 comments, most expressing astonishment at what George W. said to Gloria Mac-Arroyo, de facto president to de facto president. He said “First, I want to tell you how proud I am to be the President of a nation that -- in which there's a lot of Philippine-Americans. They love America and they love their heritage. And I reminded the President that I am reminded of the great talent of the -- of our Philippine-Americans when I eat dinner at the White House.” And then added: “And the chef is a great person and a really good cook, by the way, Madam President. “

I wish she’d replied, with a smile, “thanks and General Taguba was no pushover either” or “I hope she serves you dinuguan” or “have you checked on your dogs lately?” But she sat there like stone, muttering “thank you” as George W. Bush stereotyped her and her entire nation.

Oich! To discern ethnic stereotyping can be difficult, especially if one has had little experience with racism. In my early months in New York, a guest at a dinner given in my honor started telling me about her maid in Italy. This guest was Rome bureau head of a mega news magazine and she had a “Filipino maid” who was, as she put it, a “good person” but who had started pilfering small items. Embarrassed, I vacillated between allegiance to my compatriot (how much was this news great paying her?) and being polite, per Catholic nuns' instruction. Fortunately, my host returned from the kitchen, asked what we were talking about, gave me a swift glance, and started shouting at her guest: “Why are you telling her this? She’s a journalist and a writer. What’s she got to do with maids? With your maid?”

The Rome bureau head stuttered, turned red and said, “I just thought…” My host snapped: “Well, you just stop that thought right now!”

Not having experienced insidious, constant and subtle ethnic stereotyping, I had to work out the subtext of that conversation in my sleep and woke up furious. A year later, as guest of honor at a one-woman show at a Washington D.C. art gallery, I was introduced to the artist’s mother, who promptly said: “Oh, you’re from the Philippines! My daughter’s nanny is from the Philippines.” By then, I could snap back: “What a coincidence! My secretary’s white!”

How ironic that one had to be prickly to fit into this society, especially when one wasn’t white. But one had to acquire armor against the subtle put-downs, usually given when one was occupying, in the eyes of the put-downer, a “privileged” position. When my first book was reviewed favorably by the Times and my excited landlady made practically everyone in our building read the article, one neighbor who had a toy terrier with a diamond collar asked, “is it true Filipinos eat dogs?” I said of course and called out to his dog, “here, Foxy, here; straight to the kitchen, I’ll make you a good dinner.”

Sometimes you just have to out gross "them."

Many Filipinos do not get this kind of nuanced insult. Some would even be flattered that George W. remembered the Filipina chef in the White House kitchen, “a very good cook,” chrissakes. It’s akin to the pleasure we feel when a feudal warlord joins the town fiesta and dances with the hoi polloi; never mind that he's just taken away half of the harvest. I’ve had Filipinos tell me to “please not insult our American friend” who’s just insulted me galore, as if they, despite citizenship, weren’t Americans. I would’ve dearly loved to have said "neither can your president" to this guy in my neighborhood – a guy who, upon catching sight of me walking on the sidewalk, said over his cell phone that the place was beginning to be full of aliens “who can’t even speak English.” As it was, I could only advise him to buy a Vlasik and sit on it.

Two things mystify me about this Gloria Mac-Arroyo visit. First, the “roll-in-the-dust” gratitude for the paltry sum of $700 million in aid, considering the public humiliation. If it’s just a matter of money, overseas Filipino workers send home up to $20 billion per year, without needing to insult anyone. Had Gloria Mac-Arroyo been attentive to their needs – ordered the government to negotiate for really decent wages and working conditions for domestic workers, instead of the monthly $200 they get at the United Arab Emirates, for instance, working 16 hours 24/7 – the bloody $700 million would’ve meant only a hundred dollar donation per OFW. Were the Philippine government just a shade more caring, OFW’s would’ve sent home an extra billion dollars, with pleasure and without subjecting even the most deserving public servant to public embarrassment.

More, that would’ve been cold, hard cash -- unlike foreign aid, which is usually spent on goods made by American corporations and on salaries for American experts who tell Filipinos what to do and how to do it. Aid is not aid for the recipient country; it is aid for American big business who thus are spared the need to be grateful for U.S. taxpayer's money. More, such goods invariably change the lifestyle of the recipient country so it becomes a vulnerable market for U.S. goods. It’s part of the national US budget for advertising. Consider that at one time, the weight-loss meal replacement Metrecal was sent to the Philippines as part of foreign aid.

After all these years of receiving foreign aid, one would expect Philippine government officials to conclude that foreign aid, foreign investments, etc., do not solve/resolve anything; that issues of poverty and inequity have to be resolved at ground level, by our bootstraps, as it were.

The second mystifying thing is why Gloria Mac-Arroyo started thanking U.S. congress people for the Filipino Veterans Equity Bill – which is not even approved yet. The bill is intended to provide pensions for the few surviving Filipinos who fought with USAFFE in WWII; they were denied equal benefits as U.S. soldiers by the Rescission Act of 1946 which declared that the services of some 250,000 Filipinos under the U.S. Armed Forces in the Far East "shall not be deemed to be or to have been service in the military or national forces of the United States or any component thereof or any law of the United States conferring rights, privileges or benefits."

That clause meant no medical attention, no recognition, nothing whatsoever, all history of that service erased. I have occasionally exclaimed, "that's what you get for fighting under a foreign flag" but this is such a palpable act of racism it cannot be overlooked.

Over the years, the veterans and a few allies have fought to eke out “rights, privileges or benefits,” starting with access to the Veterans Hospital. Now here comes Gloria Mac-Arroyo thanking US legislators for an unpassed bill, pretending that she had had a role in the struggle for veterans’ rights. And who weren’t thanked for this struggle for equal rights? Why the veterans themselves, the Fil-Am community of supporters, advocates who’d gotten old and hoarse trying to correct this discrimination. As 86-year-old veteran Faustino Baclig said, “sobra ang tsu-tsu” (too much of a suck-up).

Because the Philippine government refuses to recognize and rely on the indomitable character of the people it purportedly governs and represents, because the Philippine government continues to be led by suck-ups, all who are of Philippine ancestry become vulnerable to ethnic stereotyping, public humiliation and the disgrace of being perpetual beggars even as the Philippines gives away all of its resources -- from human to natural. Sad, just too sad. -- ##


Anonymous said...

It seems to me, considering how you Filipinos quarrel and attack one another, that it's your fault you can't have equality. Look at that Veterans bill! Everybody's fighting over it and who should get credit for it.

Jeff said...

Awesome article... It fans the flames of my patriotic zeal. I am proud to be a Pinoy!

Anonymous said...

Give it up, Ms. Rosca. You Filipinos can never unite to resolve any issue at all. Because it's more important to you all to be acknowledged right than be useful to your community.

Anonymous said...

Very interesting Ms. Rosca, brilliant piece. great writer, am ur fan

Anonymous said...

While it's partly the Filipinoes' fault for not being able to overcome their colonization, it is also the US fault because the latter does not stay its hand at intervening in the social, political, economic and spiritual of this unfortunate country-- thereby destroying the Filipino's sense of self.

Jaywalker said...

Her feudal mindset is showing, this time around not as master but as a subject to a colonial master.

Should I be upset over it, nahhhhh she deserves it, besides she took it like a typical subservient subject. I guess she is not that smart after all and all that Napoleonic complex was really all for show and deep inside she is just one insecure trapo whose greed and insatiable appetite for power gets the better of her.

She has no one to blame but herself and her fellow trapos for bringing the nation down and putting herself in a situation where she is more of a nuisance beggar when she could have used her position and power to uplift our nation and people.

It just shows that there are people better than her like you Ninotchka, who will not take shit from anyone and so should we…… besides I don’t consider her as the Philippines legitimate president and therefore does not represent this Jaywalker.

stuart-santiago said...

i so loved this piece, i posted it on my blog this noon in its entirety. so now i get this call from holland, my geek son asking if i had asked your permission first, it's the thing to do. so i've edited, kept only the first two paragraphs, ending with link to this blog. and here i am now apologizing. so so sorry. - angela s.s.

Ninotchka Rosca said...

Please go ahead and use the piece, with proper attribution.

I once had a piece go around the world and return to me, via a writer in Africa who thought I might be interested. Seems authorship dropped out sometime in the piece's peregrination through cyberspace.

stuart-santiago said...

of course, proper attribution and link, always. salamat ;)

maki said...

So long as class contradiction exists, the *entire* Filipino people will *not* stop quarreling.

There is an inherent conflict of interest between the elite ruling the few (who pimp and sell the natural/labor resources Philippines) and the vast majority of the Filipino people (who bear the brunt of the poverty caused by a legacy of anti-people policies and maintained by administrations such as the US-backed Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo regime).

PGMA is no friend of the Filipino people. She does not reflect the aspirations of justice, human dignity and national liberation of the Filipino people. She does not embody the Filipino womankind's aspirations for economic, political, and social equality.

PGMA -- smiling, head-bowing and begging on all fours -- got a mere taste of the systemic racism the US government inflicts on the Filipino people (along with other im/migrant and people of color) who have been uprooted from our homeland. We -- Filipinos who are displaced in the US -- sacrifice, work and slave away as domestic workers, low wage workers, women, youth and im/migrants. We navigate the brutally racist American society. We swallow the daily manifestation of racism that is spat on us while we survive the illusions of the American Dream.

We say, no to puppet PMGA. And we say NO to racist GW Bush. You have no interest in justice and dignity for the Filipino Veterans. You have no interest in the millions of Filipinos in the US who economically shoulder the burden you have imposed on our people.

Thank you, NR, for the fabulous article. You are a friend of the Filipino people.

Tomato Maria and the Definitive Nightcap said...

This entry is very insightful and has made me realize things about myself and people around me. Would it be alright if I posted your entry in my blog? With proper attribution, of course.

Ricky said...

Haha. I loved this piece. When foreign friends ask me if Filipinos eat dogs I retort that I find it amusing that they take such good care of their livestock.

Vic de Jesus said...

I recall listening with profound sadness to Pres. Cory Aquino report with unabashed pride a conversation she had with an Italian woman who praised to high heavens her Filipina maid for her industry, intelligence, and competence. Cory said this was the universal remark she got from just about every European she met during her official trip to Europe.

In Montreal in 2001 I met a Swiss woman who had only the highest praise for her Filipina maid. I don't ascribe ill-intent or malice behind her words, indeed they stemmed from the heart.

We shouldn't feel slandered in the face of sincere praise and true gratitude.

What we instead should show is monumental rage against our leadership class who have reduced us to a Nation known more for maids and laborers around the world than for world class talents like Ms Rosca, Ms Lea Salonga, and a handful who have achieved global heights ne plus ultra.

If we had world class leaders like Lee Kuan Yew, we wouldn't be in this tragic state we're in, squatters in our own homeland and nomads everywhere.

Cristeta Comerford, the 13-year veteran of the White House kitchen who's head chef, deserves the high praise of Pres. Bush and we ought to be proud of her. But it's our national tragedy that Mr. Bush could not find anything in our present leadership to merit glorification.

Vicente Calibo de Jesus

Anonymous said...

President George W Bush's frequent tussles with English are countless and legendary that one laughs rather than gets appalled. Nincompoopery aside, Bush's beef started when the Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo withdrew her troops from Iraq ( one of the first among the Coalition of the Willing to do so) not to mention the increasing role China plays in today's Philippine economy notably , the signing of Joint Oil/Gas Exploration Project in Spratleys Island. We all know how this W from Texas reacts at the mention of OIL , don't we? He instantly becomes a Wartime President running with scissors. We should all know, after all, we've suffered and continue to suffer those consequences to this day.

Ninotchka Rosca said...

Please go ahead and use this blog; just don't lose the authorship. I find great pleasure in having a piece of mine go traveling, touching people.

hope said...

Thank you for sharing this piece.

I occasionally get comments like this one from my student: "my nanny was from the Philippines - she was great - we love her!" I am sure that my student (whose only close association, prior to me, with a Filipino was her nanny) was trying to say something nice about Filipinos. But I agree. When one hears this kind of comment over and over again it can become quite annoying to say the least. You start to think of a quick retort.

A few years ago, I was waiting for my turn at a grocery till which was manned by a Filipino. One of the customers ahead of me was trying to make light conversation with the cashier (as most people do) by asking her "are you Filipina?". He got told off when the cashier told him to "mind your f_g business." (Enough is enough, ey?)

kikas_head said...

1. Yes, Bush is an idiot and his foot spends more time in his mouth than out.

2. However, even though it is annoying to have people bring into conversation the one person they know who shares an ethnic background as you for no apparent reason (it happens to me here a lot), the woman that he was speaking of is the Executive Chef of the White House. In the cooking world, that is pretty far up the food chain (except, in this case, the boss).

I saw the original article and am trying to figure out what I am missing. He says stupid things, but this is not any more stupid than others. Am I to guess that people assumed he was speaking down about a member of the staff when in reality she has a fantastic position there (and it is worth noting she is the first female to hold this position)? Or is it just the inappropriateness of the comment during an "official" visit?

Although the comment is annoying, I fail to see the racial stereotyping, as we still have way too few world renowned chefs that are anything other than 1. Male and 2. White.

Everyone else sees it, so I know I am missing something key here...

Ninotchka Rosca said...

Is it proper manners to call a Chef a "really good cook?" If she had been French, would she had been a French cook or a French chef? Would one begin a press conference by talking about one's cook, so that becomes the focus? Or should one end it with a statement as to how proud he is about the Chef?

There's bwana language, same as there's slave language.

And it's never a question of intent but a question of effect. Intent you can only guess at, as it is subjective. Effect you can see, measure, evaluate.

unpack said...

thank you for this entry. it helps me feel like i'm not going crazy, having moved to toronto as an international student. i remember when someone was teasing me for eating a burrito with a spoon and fork... and i said, 'well my colonial masters taught me well.' but it takes a lot of time and pain to build the necessary armour against racism. and it hurts every time. on to more work. and your words really really help me :)

champorado blogger said...

i just love this piece! yes, i also put a link in my blog to the excerpt at and to your blog.

i remember a long time ago, a certain Pinay reporter went on to interview a senior CNN correspondent, who herself used to be a US immigrant. the Pinay reporter narrated that the first thing this CNN correspondent mentioned what that she is delighted to meet a reporter who is of the same nationality as the ever-efficient nanny of her two children.

OFW said...

Can you give more light on the Lauro Baja case filed in New York Federal Court please.

gayle gupit mayor said...

I enjoyed reading your piece, and I can totally relate to it.

When I was younger, I did not recognize these little incidents of racial profiling. Over the years, I have grown to be vigilant and defensive.

I feel exasperated that Filipinos living in the Philippines cannot relate to these things, and they tend to discount our misunderstood feelings.

I wrote about an encounter with a Baptist Caucasian piano teacher that took place a few years back. I was so annoyed with the incident that I felt the need to write it down.

I did not purposely 'beat around the bush' --- it was my fault that I didn’t recognize immediately what she was really getting at.

The offense was in her patronizing motive to classify people into minority groups. Living in the U.S. for almost 30 years meant nothing. We will always be foreigners in their eyes because of our physical attributes . . . regardless of our citizenship. We are also Americans, and being American is a citizenship, not an ethnicity.


We were ushered in a studio cubicle by the grandmotherly piano teacher. We had been looking for a music school closer to home, and she came highly recommended.

She crinkled her nose and looked at the three of us through thick spectacles that had slipped down her bridge.

“So, where are you from?”

“Oh, we live about five minutes from here,” I replied.

“No, before that.”

“Well, we used to live in the Kent area, but we moved here to be closer to their Catholic school.”

“But, where did you live before Kent?” she smiled impatiently.

“My husband and I used to have an apartment in the Southcenter area, but we bought a house in Kent before my son was born. You know how it is.”

I was then wondering where the conversation was leading to.

“What I mean is, where are you from?”

“We used to live in Los Angeles, but moved here because my husband’s work led him here.” I patiently explained.

“But before that?” she pressed on.

By this time, I’m thinking "geez louise!"

“Oh, are you asking what country I’m from? My two kids were born here in Washington . . . in Renton. But I was born in the Philippines. My family migrated here when I was 11 years old. My husband moved here in the U.S. when he was 6 years old.”

Her frown went away and her wrinkles seemed to straighten out.

“How nice. The lady at the salon that I go to is also from the Philippines. Very nice person . . . you might know her. Her name is . . . “

I rudely and quickly interrupted her dialogue by explaining that the Philippines is such a big place, and I cannot possibly know her hairdresser.

“Oh, okay.”

She then turned her full attention to my two kids.

The trial piano lessons finally ended and we thanked her. There were some parents with their children waiting in the hallway when we emerged from the cubicle. The cheerful piano teacher then introduced us to the other parents, and we exchanged pleasantries.

Then she unexpectedly added in the end, “. . . they’re from the Philippines.”

With disbelief and almost tongue-tied, I quickly thanked her again for her time. Needless to say, we did not come back.

Herson Juego said...

I'm glad and overwhelmed to find yet another great writer of Filipino roots in cyberspace. You're one of the "rare" people in this world who are sensible and patriotic, especially so in a country that is running out of sensible and patriotic writers and citizens. This post of yours wraps it all up. Res ipsa non loquitur!

Anonymous said...

I had a similar experience lately when I rushed my mother to the hospital. My poor mother was already in pain and the first thing the doctor said to us when she saw us was, "Are you Filipino?" When we said yes she added, "My nanny's Filipino." It hurt because not only did I have to take the insult for the sake of my mother but we also depended on this white, blond, smug, feudal lord for medical help. I still wonder if I should have rebutted that unwarranted insult.

my said...

I am tasked to analyze your first novel "State of War". Is Anna Villaverde your surrogate? I think there is a gleam of transgenerational bondage there. Am I correc?. Please enlighten me. Thanks a lot.