Thursday, October 30, 2008

Bauhaus House

I tried to load this picture in the post below but somehow couldn't. So here's Fagie's tremendous residence. The Canadian government should declare it a landmark, really.

Bear with me; I just got this new Nikon D70 (actually second-hand) and became so entranced with it, I shot over a hundred photos in one day -- and learned I'm not very good at this (yet).

Through the Plains and Back

The cold came on my last day in Winnipeg, riding blustery winds, reminding me that all my socks were mismatched pairs, and so Fagie and I hied off to a mall on the way to airport. It seemed a logical thing to do at the time, despite my exhaustion, as my nights were plagued with bad dreams, ever since I learned that certain elements were saying that organizing women and women’s centers was akin to setting up cults or a cult. All the work of women should be, according to the new inquisitors, erased – burahin, burado, bura, bura, bura – the viciousness of the word like a whiff of smoke and ashes, engendering memories of witches burning, millions of women tortured, Sisa driven insane and Maria Clara chased to a nunnery’s rooftop by a lust-driven Padre Salvi. I was prepared to be lynched when I gave a talk on the patriarchal surge which I characterized as partly occasioned by the epidemic of selling women as trade goods all over the world…

One reads about how the women have been deprived of historical signification but it’s something else when one watches it in the 21st century.

I flew to Winnipeg barely 24 hours after flying home from Davenport, Iowa, where the Ambrose Women for Social Justice had held its annual conference, this time focused on trafficking. Attendance was over what the women had expected, the discussions lively and interesting. People were interested in doing more even beyond the conference. My central thesis was that trafficking does not take place in a vacuum; that it rests solidly on feudal-patriarchal foundations that view women as disposable, replaceable and interchangeable, a view that capital uses to transform women into trade goods and cheap labor, for the maximization of profits that is a pillar principle of imperialist globalization.

That is not too difficult to understand, is it?

And therefore, to eradicate such afflictions, one must dig deep to uproot patriarchal and feudal values and perspectives, as well as oppose and struggle against imperialism… That’s not too difficult to understand either, is it?

In any case, I almost missed going to Winnipeg, Canada, because I had it in my mind that, having reached New York from Iowa on a Wednesday, I would have Thursday free to decompress and prepare, but sometime in the evening, I get a call from Canada and this very sweet voice tells me that she’d pick me up at the airport on the morrow. OMG! I checked my ticket and sure enough, I was due to leave the following day. My little luggage ($15 to check it in at American Airlines) had gone astray, with all my good clothes in it… I spent two hours rummaging for another suitcase and serviceable clothing. I wish the RNC had taken a buck or two off Sarah Palin’s clothing allowance to get me a new pair of jeans.

Of course, the plane from Winnipeg to Minnesota was delayed and I had only 15 minutes to make it from one gate to the other, to catch the last plane to New York, running and praying I didn’t destroy the painting Grassroots Women had given me; I made it at last boarding call but my second suitcase didn’t. Oich vech!

But Fagie’s home was really gorgeous, of the Bauhaus architecture, which meant glass windows all around, so the four seasons moved light and shadow through the house. It’s as close to living in the open as one can get without the inconvenience.

At home, I find the TV full of Barack Obama, who seems to have a thousand rallies going on, on top of doing a million interviews. He’s really tanned, red brown, probably from all the outdoors campaigning, what we call in Tagalog kayumangging kaligatan, a most prized complexion. I never did find out what kaligatan meant, never having heard it linked with another noun, but I presume it means pristine, pure, deep… The intensity of this campaign is delineated by the creep of gray through his hair, more now than two years ago. Appearing with Bill Clinton at a midnight rally, Obama appeared nervous, made two mistakes in his speech (A top McCain aide admitted that if we continue to talk about the election… should’ve been “the economy”) and looked really exhausted.

These elections are becoming ever so amusing, what with all the talk about socialism, re-distribution of wealth, Marxist, communist, terrorist, etc., – subjects rarely addressed in US politics. Jon Stewart asks whether, should Obama win, it meant the electorate approved of socialism? Hmmmm.

I hear “women’s rights” enunciated in speech after speech, on par with all other rights, and I wonder whether it will take another thousand years before we of Philippine ancestry will hear a man of our people say that with due sincerity. I glance at Obama, note the dark circles under his eyes, and say “there’s a chasm between intent and implementation, always!”

At the Winnipeg talk, an immigrant (not sure, could’ve been on student visa) from Africa stands to excoriate us for critiquing Sarah Palin. Women shouldn’t speak ill of women is his thesis. Then he launches an excoriation of Barack. Fortunately, others set him straight and tell him that he’s contradicting himself. I have to step on my tongue figuratively to keep from saying “a black man can critique a black man but an Asian woman should not subject a white woman to analysis; let’s be mindful of how colonialism has defined for us what’s due one sector of the population versus what’s due another.”

And how were your last two weeks?

Friday, October 17, 2008

On The Debates III

I kind of miss the “terrorist” fist bump that Michele and Barack used to exchange. At the last debate, with the final statement made and the wives climbed the stage, I half-expected it, so delighted was the look that Michele and Barack gave one another, a pleased innocence difficult to come by in this age of cynicism and angst.

POTUSes of the last 20 years (one generation, my goodness!) have not been likeable. Bill Clinton came close but wrecked it with that Monica Lewinsky stupidity. George W. and Cheney made one feel like spitting.

Barack and Michele are simply likeable – intelligent, without obvious trauma, even-tempered in their passion, of even keel, and with that air of not quite believing their own success but delighted by it. Joe Biden has the same quality, though less self-contained.

Those of us on the Left should probably learn this lesson; too many of our leadership being just NOT likeable as persons. Respect is fine as respect goes; faith in the leadership is fine as faith goes, but at some basic level, it’s better to be both respected and liked.

I used to take as an article of belief Bertolt Brecht’s poetic line: those who would bring kindness into this world cannot themselves be kind. It was a harsh dictum. And I think, wrong.

Something striking from an Obama speech, paraphrasing: before you can make history, you must make a difference. -- ##

Thursday, October 16, 2008

On The Debates II

About a dozen students and I watched the last presidential debate here at the guest apartment I’m using at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champagne. Some had been perturbed by my thesis that McCain is the Republican candidate because the party considers this election a throw-away one, and they intended to use and are using the election to launch an allegedly new generation of right-wing politicians like Sarah Palin into national prominence.

I came to this conclusion at the end of the Republican primary because McCain, whose specialty is national security, did not seem apropos for the times. It was of telling significance to me that Palin knew only one Supreme Court case -- Roe V. Wade – indicating that what stuck the most in the right wing crow was the expansion and deepening of women’s emancipation.

Still I was shocked to see McCain raise his hands and place under virtual quotation marks the phrase “women’s health.”

For a guy whose (partial) medical records run to 1,000 pages, this cavalier dismissal of legitimate concern for womankind, 90% of whom have neither access nor the means to medical care.

The National Center for Health Statistics says that US maternal deaths at childbirth has been rising steadily; it’s now 13 per 100,000 live births; it was 12 per 100,000 in 2003 – the first time maternal death rose above 10 since 1977.

In NY, women are dying at the rate of 2.5 times the national average.

Women, we had better work to eradicate "contentless" feminism because we're sure to meet Palin or her doppelganger somewhere, sometime, down the road. -- ##

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Cries of Terrorist!

Wasn’t that something – seeing/hearing McCain supporters screaming THE WORD at the mention of a U.S. presidential candidate? OMG!

Which was why GabNet immediately took to the streets in protest when the US came out with its terrorist list that included Filipinos and Filipino organizations, sans proof, sans due process, sans verification...

Go around the world attaching labels to those who don't agree with you and the practice comes back to bite you in the behind. Now it's become part of what's supposed to be the bedrock of Western democracy -- elections.

The McCain camp has an incipient national hysteria brewing, stoked undoubtedly by the economic meltdown. Some parents are reportedly freaking out over some dolls – yes, the toy variety – allegedly mumbling pro-satanic and/or Islamic opinions.

So be careful out there, everyone. But do take the time to at least say something against this racism and xenophobia.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

On The Debates

After the first debate between Barack Obama and John McCain, I’d worried that Barack was suffering from that familiar avoidance of confrontation with white people hammered into people of color by centuries of racism. We all know this subconscious awareness that the system is weighted against us, that whiteness can, by simply being, crush us into nothingness.

The second debate put that to rest. And if only for the fact that Barack voted to appropriate money for an overhead projector for a planetarium used by 8th graders, I’d gladly endorse him. A man who understands the wonderful impact of standing under a sky visible with planets, stars, galaxies and nebulae must have great empathy – something rare among those who deal with and in power.

John McCain’s “that one” comment confirmed my suspicion that he found it outrageous and enraging to have a young mixed blood challenge his right to power and title. Uppity, indeed! It must have lodged like a boulder in his bowels; he looked so constipated the whole evening.

As for Sarah Palin, she’s become a political potty-mouth. I should feel sorry for the woman but I ain’t.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

The Language of Ourselves

The inglorious president of the Philippines wants to change the current medium of instruction from Pilipino (based on Tagalog, the common language) to either English or local languages or both, so as to make Filipinos more competitive in the international market. If that's the rationale, then English would be likely restored as the medium of instruction, the mention of local languages a sop to lull suspicions.

Such reasoning boggles the mind. Consider that a million Filipinos leave annually to work in some 168 countries; consider that the country has 20% of the world’s call centers market and will have 50-60% of it in a few years’ time; consider that Dumaguete, Davao and Naga – hitherto rural areas – are now major call centers for the world medical transcription industry… how much more competitive do Filipinos have to be? To the extent where the whole archipelago devolves into a handful of disparate tribes unable to speak to one another except through the prism of a colonial tongue? It’s enough to make one gag.

In my New York neighborhood, a 20-block run takes you to Argentina, Chile, Columbia, India, Pakistan, Philippines; 30 blocks and you’re in Africa, Jamaica and other places whose names escape even a geography fan. It is so diversely ethnic here that it occasionally brings surfeit, like eating six black apricots one after another, mesmerized by the oxymoronic name. Over a hundred languages are spoken here and one meets Filipinos from every region of the archipelago, chance encounters blooming into friendship at the spurt of “ay, Pilipino ka, kumusta ka, saan ang lakad, kumain ka na ba?” This is where MJ, who comes from GenSan, speaks Ilongo to Tess from Davao, and both speak Tagalog to me.

A decade ago, only three Filipino households were in the neighborhood – myself, a friend at the next block and another ten blocks away. But eventually, others moved in, led by some self-described “stalkers” of mine, in a rush for the then relatively cheap apartments in pre-war buildings originally constructed on wheat fields to entice workers to Queens, catapulting the then-lone Pinoy real-estate agent to the million-dollar-sales club. Our tribes increased but remained invisible, because our “ghetto” was blocks away, streets peppered by Filipino restaurants, banks, courier/balikbayan agencies, beauty salons advertising the cryptic puting kilikili, singit guaranteed (white armpits and -- I have to invent a phrase here -- crotch-folds guaranteed). Sometimes a presence is announced – Maximo Bartel is here – which I took to be an ethnic version of Kilroy Was Here until a friend enlightened me that this was a hair stylist, this a make-up artist, that a singer. Pardon my ignorance. Gossip, of course, flows from corner to corner, unstoppable and without fact-check, in our common language.

I once offered to temporarily care for the child of someone who was ill and desperate. Two days later, a friend I hadn’t seen in four months came knocking, wanting to see “the child you adopted,” sending me into hysterics of “Did Not, Did Not, Did Not!” as anything about children often do. Two days, my goodness, for this bit of news to reach ten blocks; no wonder any tale from me was greeted with “ay, bahaw na iyan, may bago na!” (that’s stale, there’s something new!).

Point is that there’s a vast current of communication flowing through this neighborhood, welding us together into a people, no matter what region or tribe we came from. Because we tend to use perishable materials for our culture – bamboo scrolls, textile, beads and the like – and those of permanence like paintings and sculpture are reserved for those who can afford, language is what binds us together and our Putonghua (Chinese for common language or Mandarin) is Tagalog. I’ve spent hours of talk-story time with men and women from any of the 7,100 islands, occasionally with lapses of silence as we mentally translate from one language to another, working out meaning. My first language is Tagalog but I can do a little of Bisaya and a little of Ilongo and can curse heartily in five languages.

Point is practicing ethno-linguistic chauvinism in this area is impractical, because we have become a melting pot unto ourselves. In areas where ethno-linguistic chauvinism is practiced and defended, the Filipino population tends to decrease. Likely because a common language is needed to forge a community, to identify common interests, dreams and goals, and develop a common plan of action.

Even the second-gens, raised monolingual by misguided parents, listen with envy to the “bubbling water” cadenza of our conversation. How do you manage? I was asked once, and it was someone from Sulu – a place as unfamiliar to me as Alaska – who replied: “We use Tagalog.”

Making the leap from “my language” to “our language” is part of the process of nationhood; of achieving a sense of the collective entity we call our nationality. This "leap" to a larger self is absolutely necessary for the struggle for better work and living conditions, and against exploitation, discrimination and sexism. Organizing is ten times more difficult if one does not have a common language with those being organized.

For women, the issue of a common language is critical. Because of their intimate nature, certain topics can only be discussed effectively in a language reflective of one’s stream of consciousness. Instructions in safe sex or domestic violence or sexual preference are triply difficult in English, whose nuances are often alien to that of the archipelago’s social context. Blank stares are often the response to anything I say in English regarding such subjects but if I say, “walang k- ang asawa mong bugbugin ka, lalo pa pakain mo siya…” (Your husband has no right to beat you up, especially since you pay for what he eats)... the reaction is instant. Those who can read the Tagalog version will appreciate the difference.

That Tagalog has become the common language is a historical accident, true. But there it is and it binds us into an exiled nation, rather than an accumulation of tribes, and it seems to have lent itself to easy learning, being of the same stock as the rest of the islands’ 170 languages. The Philippines is not the only country with a multiplicity of languages; there’s Indonesia which has more and Malaysia as well. They thrive on Bahasa Indonesia and Bahasa Malaysia. China’s one billion population manages with Putonghua (Mandarin), despite 6-12 regional languages, each with tens of millions of speakers. And here we are, trying to devolve the Philippines into incoherence and to force the national conversation into a colonial paradigm. It is both stupid and tragic. -- ##