Saturday, January 31, 2004

oh the stories that these treasures could tell!

The Dim Sum of All Things!!

Wednesday, January 28, 2004

The view from the valley versus the view from the mountain reminds me of this...and the possibility that a befuddled silence may be a good thing, too:

Structuralist semiotics and deconstruction are expressions of a culture and society which 'play it cool'.These are potent rationalizations...I want to suggest that they mask a more radical flinching; that the embarrassment we feel in bearing witness to the poetic, to the entrance into our lives of the mystery of otherness in art and in music, is of a metaphysical-religious kind. (George Steiner)

In my Ethnic Literature class I am asking students to select one poem each week from Eileen's Reproductions of the Empty Flagpole. I am asking them to respond to the poem by writing one of their own, thru a photograph, a collage, a drawing, an essay, a meditation -- in whatever ways the poem moves them to respond. I've never done this before. It's a bit risky. But what is on the other side of the risk not taken? I will also keep my own journal starting with a footnote to The Lamb on p.79 as a response:

Although she will, from now on, always have a memory of his silhouette dripping with a broken heart. Her mourning will turn into the peaceful detachment from love’s illusion of permanence. She will have another lover. Death always gives in to desire.

Monday, January 26, 2004

Why is it that right after Bush signed the "Healthy Marriage Act" there has been a rush of sex-related media coverage e.g. NBC's feature on children sold to prostitution in Cambodia, NYT's Nicholas Kristof buying out the freedom of two Cambodian girls in a brothel; NYT's Peter Landesman long essay and NPR interview on sex trafficking and child slavery in Mexico and into the US.

What I wish to know is: who are the men who are part of pedophile rings? the johns? the smugglers? and how do they get away with these crimes?

Whether watching it on tv or reading about these issues, in the guise of investigative reporting, none really go into detailed analysis of why human smuggling (esp of women and girls) has become a global crisis. NBC's Dateline feature especially appealed to the voyeur in all of us, manufacturing knee-jerk pity for the girl children and abhorrence for the American white uppermiddle class male doctor looking for sex with children in Cambodian slums, derision for Cambodian mothers who pimp their children and policemen complicitous with the entire scheme. This is orientalism pure and simple, masquerading as a universal human rights issue and whose solution, in this case, lies entirely in the hands of a faith-based organization operating in Cambodia to rescue these children. But they don't tell you what happens after the children are rescued. My guess is they end up in some kind of a Christian safe-house, taught to accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior to turn their lives around (but how?).

Kristof bought the freedom of two Cambodian girls for a total of about $300 and the girls were returned to their villages. So he comes off as a hero but how do we know the girls will stay in the village and be safe there? We are not told. But it seems that the recent media frenzy over this topic is a very subtle (or maybe not) of yet another of conservative global agenda to become the world's sex police. I think Bush just wants to make sure he covers all the bases: outer space, oil and natural resources, sex and marriage -- all the better to ensure America's global superiority in all things forever and ever till kingdom comes and it is soon...

I guess the reason why I am reacting to these is because they could have been talking about the Philippines (and they have in the past). Kristof's analysis: they should have more sweatshops in Cambodia because sweatshops are safer places to work in compared to sex slavery. He writes that Americans who protest the exploitation of third world workers in sweatshops do not consider that in those countries sweatshops are the lesser evil. Well, take that, you anti-sweatshop American buyer!

Anyway...the week is young...

Sunday, January 25, 2004

So Sunny and Jean -- what does Hobo Chang Ba mean? Educate this old dude, pls.

on letting go, opening up.

Personally I feel that the role of the teacher is to wean the students from dependency, and from taking the parent/child view of life altogether. That's what I think of as non-theism. Theism doesn't just have to do with God; it has to do with always feeling that you're incomplete and need something or someone outside to look to. It's like never growing up. (Pema Chodron)

Saturday, January 24, 2004

thanks, kari edwards, for keeping track of casualties in Iraq.

Friday, January 23, 2004

FIL AM license plates sightings on Hwy 12

SARAP (on a Jaguar)
PNYSNV (on a Datsun zx3...on second thought maybe I mistook Freud for Pinoy!)

so what do Fil Ams put on their personal license plates?

Thursday, January 22, 2004

I never thought that I'd cry watching Mona Lisa Smile. I can't relate to the 50s of Wellesley College, to the culture of affluence and its expectations. But I can relate to being an outsider entering a space that isn't meant to include someone like me. I can relate to the desire to make a difference in the world.

In 1999 a former student sent me a gift book, The Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of A Teacher's Life, because, she said, it reminded her of me and my teaching. Parker Palmer's book, I've since realized, is a bible for teachers who see their vocation as sacred.

...knowing, teaching, and learning are grounded in sacred soil and that renewing my vocation as a teacher requires cultivating a sense of the sacred...In a world stripped of the sacred, the inner landscape holds no mystery, for it has no variety. Traveling through it, one does not move from prairie to woods to water, from desert to mountain to valley...the desacralized landscape is utterly flat, bereft of texture and tangle, color and flair - and traversing it soon becomes tedious beyond telling. If this were only an aesthetic failure, it would be bad enough. But the flatness of the desacralized landscape breeds more than sensory fatigue. It creates a specific spiritual pathology that diminishes our ability to know, to teach, to learn: we lose our capacity for surprise. (111-112)

Perhaps I have become a teacher because of this inner landscape's need to discover unmediated transcendence.

These thoughts were triggered by the wilyfilipino...

Tuesday, January 20, 2004

... Any coherent understanding of what language is and how language performs, ... any coherent account of the capacity of human speech to communicate meaning and feeling is, in the final analysis, underwritten by the assumption of God's presence...the experience of the aesthetic meaning in literature, the arts, music, infers the necessary possibility of this "real presence." George Steiner

If I understand Steiner right, he is arguing that all the secondary and tertiary discourses (reviews, dissertations, criticisms) about art, music, poetry, are what distract us from experiencing the meaningfulness of the art itself. On the other hand he writes that he will not ban these discourses or eliminate them but he sees the limit of the role they play in conveying meaning. Better still, he said, if we can learn how to be artful in our own approach to art and lessen our dependence on the academic/scholar or critic who makes an easy offer on meanings, this 'real presence' can be experienced more directly. Unmediated transcendence.

Note to self: okay, I've heard this before. This is what Eileen and other poet-friends have been saying all along. Why should George Steiner's text carry more authority? Does it? And what/where are those instructions for folks who do not want to turn to a critic or another scholarly text, who want an unmediated experience of the transcendent?

Steiner (again) writes that those who have this unmediated experience often produce works of art: art begets art. I like that.

Friday, January 16, 2004

I am re-posting a letter to one Isabel Ball on another listserve...Tatang has posted excerpts from the same exchange.

I just want to make a first and last comment on the recent exchanges. You make a lot of us furious, curious, and frustrated – both in the way you write and the way you think about issues. But the fact that you can get some folks engaged and enraged shows that we are all passionate about the Philippines.

What your posts remind me of is the literature on the psychology of colonialism. Under colonization, the colonized internalizes the dark projections from the colonizer. For example, when the colonizer says: “If you want to become a true human being, you must become like me,” the colonized who accepts this projection begins to think, act, talk, dress, and sing like the colonizer. The colonized comes to believe that the colonizer’s material culture, technological and scientific achievements are indeed signs of being fully human and therefore, superior. She doesn’t believe that her own people were already full human beings before the colonizers came. So the colonized begins to dream, think, speak in ways that demonstrate this deeply held belief: I need to become like my master/colonizer. A co-dependent relationship develops between the colonizer and the colonized much like a child becomes dependent on the parent. That is why Filipinos were called “little brown brothers” – because we were perceived as children incapable of becoming independent adults and thinking critically. Because the colonized believes that the colonizer is superior, they then learn to see the world only in those terms and only within the narrow confines of that small box. (That’s about as simple as I can state it).

When you keep insisting that Filipinos should emulate the West (develop discipline, change attitudes, etc.) you are recycling the colonizer/colonized relationship. You insist on blaming the Filipino people and our values and culture for the plight that we’re in. What the folks on the listserve ask you to do is to question some of your assumptions about American superiority and the paradigm of modernity itself. And the way you begin to see what those assumptions do to the way you perceive the world is by looking outside your box. For example, may I suggest that you listen to Al Gore’s speech on Global Warming (http://moveon.org) – where he talks about the failure of US current leadership to exercise moral courage in the face of critical problems about the environment. This has implications to life on the planet itself and not just on Americans. Even if you were to look at the environmental issues alone (since you like scientific evidence and objective facts), you will see that colonial projects (when the US imposes its anti-environment agenda on the rest of the world) are not good for sustaining life on earth.

For another way of thinking outside of your box, read books that critique the American Empire. Or just learn to listen to people outside of the dominant paradigm of American superiority. Read Michael Moore or watch Bowling for Columbine. Read Filipino authors like the people on this listserve. Read about the examples of many Filipinos in the US who do good projects for the homeland.

I realize that you love the Philippines and you want to help the country. I think the first place to begin to help the homeland is to change our hearts and minds. Looking closely at the way you think about these things is a good place to begin.

Yay!!! Nick and Bino!! Bino, I enjoyed the Spain photos and entries.

Thursday, January 15, 2004

Please listen to Al Gore's speech on the environment.

The Ethnic Canon

What does it mean to read ethnic literature from the position of critical multiculturalism?
How can the reading of ethnic literature be co-opted by conservative and liberal multiculturalists?
How does the appeal to universal aesthetic values in literature cheat ethnic literature of its subversive potential to decenter the canon?

These are the questions posed by David Palumbo-Liu in his book of the same title.

Tuesday, January 13, 2004

Jury Duty and other random thoughts...

The judge says: What makes "us" different from "them" is that we have a jury system. I don't care how you feel about the country right now but you have to admit that "our" jury system is unique in the world; it's what makes us the best country in the world.

A part of me is impressed with the efficiency of the system. People appear when they are summoned; then they have the right to plead hardship and be excused from serving. These randomly picked jury candidates from all walks of life are all wanting to do their civic duty.

I see that behind the courthouse is the county jail, a handsome red brick building with tiny windows. I wonder who is in those cells.

Another part of me is only too aware of the prison-military-industrial complex industry that any vestige of admiration for this efficiency is soon gone. Maybe some parts of the justice system truly do work to keep us safe and sleeping soundly at nights. But I wonder, like many others do, why, if we are the most civilized nation on earth, we have the highest prison population? And why are people of color disproportionately incarcerated? No easy answers I know. Even knowing that even prison can produce poets like Jimmy Santiago Baca, is a small consolation.

On Filipino tv, the night's feature is on the latest acquisition of the national prison: the lethal injection chamber. They had built a small building to house the death chamber; the voyeur gets a tour - these are the needles, this is the phone (it doesn't work yet) that awaits the president's call, these are the chemicals that will be injected into the body. I start to feel sick. How can they be so nonchalant? As a third world country, they seem so proud of having the latest technology of death. Yet the national angst these days is really over the search for justice at the core of society.

On US tv, I am listening to the audacious announcement of the prez that he wants Americans to set up a manned station on the moon and to send men into Mars. And they do use the word "men." This is the Christian Broadcasting Network (yes, i do tune in once in a while). The news analyst said that the reason behind this renewed vision for space exploration is the fear of China's space program. "We cannot let China become more superior than the US." Then he continues: What has kept the U.S. from funding the technology for space exploration are all the social welfare programs that the federal government has had to pay for! I wonder what Jesus would say.

Well, a little good news come morning. Madonna has spoken: I am afraid for the future of my children! So she is rallying behind Wesley Clark. Gwyneth Paltrow does likewise. Good news no. 2: moveon.org will air its anti-Bush campaign ad during SuperBowl...assuming it can raise $1.5M. It looks like they're almost there.

Ursula Le Guin keeps asking: Who will walk away from their Omelas?

Monday, January 12, 2004

I'm glad that Tatang has reprinted Lily Mendoza's rebuttal to the "damaged culture" hypothesis of James Fallows...likewise, Barb's quote from Irene Duller's poem. Of course, i'm glad to be connected to Lily as my younger sister and an essay I wrote based on Irene's poem is published in The Other Side magazine, titled, The Maid of the World.

It need not be belabored that colonization damages both the colonizer and the colonized. Even though this world seems to be arranged in favor of the former, in a much broader and deeper way, the damage to the colonizer seems worse, in my opinion. No wonder a white woman in one of my lectures, asked: is there a colonizing gene in white people? because if there is, then I am doomed! and she said this with the most heartbreaking voice I've ever heard. She felt imprisoned by it. I guess that is why I have been focusing my attention on the question of healing not only for the colonized but more so for the colonizer.

More on this later...jury duty calls.

Sunday, January 11, 2004

We celebrate their days,
eat hot dogs, love baseball,
but they say we were born to weed,
change diapers, carry crates in the gray of dawn
while they sleep. Awake, they look at us without seeing.

We see ourselves clearly, know ourselves
precisely, without parades and picnics.
To survive, we must.

One of the invisible living among the notable,
day after day I hear doors shut,
stumble over slurs, and bump into the man
Who nods yes, yes, but isn't listening.

Renato Rosaldo

Saturday, January 10, 2004

wowee!! more karaoke testimonials!. now, we all know that the original karaoke machine, called "minus one," was invented by a Pinoy, right? But no one has ever told me the story of how the inventor failed to patent it and then it ended up in Japanese hands and voila! karaoke!.

And Jean is asking if karaoke as performance is also a subversive gesture, as in "inserting one's voice onto an approved venue" and eschewing all the "hoops one has to go through in order to be recorded in a studio." I think this is possible. But I am more likely go along with Michelle's observation among Pinoy karaoke singers that something grips them and energy is unleashed. Something primal? A return of the repressed?

Friday, January 09, 2004

As this blog is about unfixing "otherness," it's interesting to note that conservatives are now trying to occupy the position of "other" (well at SFSU maybe but...) crying oppression and marginalization by a liberal student body, faculty, media, etc. It seems that they couldn't come up with a language that doesn't resort to reversal. On this side of the Bay Area, a junior at Rancho Cotate High School is attracting conservatives like Phyllis Schaffly (remember her?) because he complained (and got media coverage) that he couldn't get faculty support for the Conservative Club he organized on campus. Investigations are underway, the lawyers have been called in...and Phyllis Schaffly wants to come on campus and debate any of the liberal faculty on the issues raised by the club. No takers, so far.

As for theorizing karaoke; I really don't have one. But a Joseph Campbell vignette comes to mind:
Western theologian to Zen monk (at a theology conference): we've been here for 3 days now, I still don't understand your theology!
Zen monk: We have no theology; we dance!

So if someone asks me to theorize about karaoke, I'll just say "we have no theory; we sing!"...even to the karaoke in our minds while strolling Walmart or Safeway...Michellle, i don't know whether this is a gold, silver or bronze mike...it's black with silver and it's called a videoke. It does give you the score after each song but no applause!! Or maybe I just haven't reached the perfect score for the applause. It keeps telling me to "make a effort!"

Of course, i think Filipino culture is performative and perhaps because singing (ritual) is a mnemonic device in oral traditions, that has been carried over into our mimicry...if so, is it still simply mimicry?

Wednesday, January 07, 2004

Finally, I am a certified Filipina!...i now own a karaoke microphone, courtesy of my brother in Canada who says that I must get up from my computer once in a while and awaken my chanteuse-self. Dang, how did they get 1000 songs in that hand-held mike? Now, where do I get an OPM (Original Pilipino Music) chip for my mike?

So...if we ever have a babyshower for Pinoy Poetics, should I bring my mike?

Monday, January 05, 2004

Wanted: a car sticker that says: I stop for the crossing goose...

...Jean, it seems there's more than one way for our feathered friends to be inhumanely treated. That delicacy, foie gras, comes from force-feeding ducks thru a long metal pipe attached to a pneumatic feeding machine which pushes corn into the duck three times a day to make the liver fatty. But this is also a medical disorder called "hepatic lipidosis" or fatty liver disease. The high fat diet produces fatty acids that get stored in the duck's liver which, if the ducks weren't slaughtered, would result in diseases due to impaired absorption of nutrients. Farmers who raise ducks for foie gras induce the same disease that veterinarians treat in cats, llamas, turkeys, birds, cattle, rabbits, etc.

Anyway, talking about food (sorry about your LA food experience, Tatang!)...how far am I willing to drive for a good chunk of cinnamon sticky bun? 30miles. Yup. At Wildflower bakery in Freestone, the bakers use only organic wild flour, make everything by hand, and bake in brick ovens...all lovingly made by a crew who believe in good bread the way they believe in zen. This small funky bakery in the middle of what seems like nowhere, is a destination. The bakery keeps a guest journal and as we read thru it with our sticky fingers, writers from as far away as Oslo, Brazil, Ohio, Pennsylvania all sing praises to the sticky bun, the fougasse (grilled onions, olives, cheeses), scones, biscotti, sourdough and others.

As we enjoyed our coffee and bun, a family sat at the end of the long table. Then the father told us he was leaving for Iraq the next day. He is a reserve officer and has been called to active duty. His wife isn't happy and so was the son with them. Over the good bread, we talked about war and heartbreak.

I haven't heard of William Jones until this link was forwarded by a colleague who is doing research on Angel DeCora, a famous Native American artist during the early 20th century. William Jones, a classmate of Angel DeCora at Hampton School (the first school established to "educate" the Indians), became an anthropologist and mentee of Franz Boas. Boas was instrumental in helping Jones find a job with the Field Museum of Chicago. Jones found himself accepting a Field Museum project in the Philippines to collect tribal artifacts. At one of his expeditions to Northern Luzon,he encountered the Ilongots (read full story in the website). It was the story of Wm Jones(he was killed by the Ilongots in 1909) that led Renato Rosaldo to do his dissertation on Ilongot headhunting. Rosaldo's experience among the Ilongots is, of course, what led him to critique classical anthropology and helped turn the discipline on its head.

Collis Davis, a Fulbright scholar who is currently residing in the Philippines, is creating a documentary film on Wm. Jones. He draws parallels between the journey of Jones to Ilongotland with the journey of Kurtz into the "heart of darkness" but the interesting twist here is that Jones is a Native American. Hhmmm...

Saturday, January 03, 2004

whenever i whisper to the universe i am sad, someone always comes through with solace. here's one:

My friend, Roshni Rustomji, was recently recognized by the South Asian Literature Association of MLA, for her body of work. Below is an excerpt from her acceptance speech:

I start to write fragments
as much to myself as to another.

(Who lives in my mind?
Can the mind hold its hope?)
Meena Alexander “Fragments’ from Illiterate Heart p.27

It was April, 1987. My mother was dying. She knew she was dying and we all knew she was dying. A few hours before she died, as she and I were working on a word puzzle in the daily newspaper she said, “Roshni, you should write your memoir. You have lived all over the place and done many different things—most of which I didn’t approve of—then. Now—I don’t know. Stop all the teaching-feaching, correcting-forrecting papers and all that and write down all those stores you tell me.”
A memoir? What really makes sense to me is to narrate my memories of other people’s memories, what others have related to me about their lives. By others, I of course mean real or imagined fellow human beings. Sometimes the distinctions are hazy. Narratives within narratives. Narratives strung together in some kind of order that doesn’t always make sense even to me. But one thing I know-- all of these stories, memories I have heard, read, listened to or seen eventually become part of my physical being. I realize that as I write down—or type out— or as I tell these stories, re-member them, they become integral parts of the lines on my hands, integral parts of the mechanisms that produce my voice.
Today, I will present some of the people, some of the stories I have encountered as I, a woman from Asia walk across the Americas. I sometimes fantasize a title: A Woman born in India Walking on the Land of the Indios. These are fragments of stories my mother didn’t hear.

As I read about these fragments, I am reminded that the stories we tell and the stories that live in us and yet still untold, will someday also find their way into lines on someone else's hand. As Roshni searches for the roots of Asia in Latin America, I too, have become curious about the Filipino roots there. Someday the clues will lead us...as this next excerpt from Roshni's talk.

On the bus to visit the ruins of Monte Alban, a man next to me asks me where I am from. He asks in Spanish. I have had a total of ten hours of Spanish classes at that time. I say that I am an Indian. I haven’t quite discovered South Asian American yet. Before I can add, “and a Pakistani” he says I don’t look like an “india”. I recognize my mistake and tell him that I was born, soy una natural de la India. I originated in India and Pakistan but was now residing in California. And he is delighted. He knows India, he knows Pakistan. He says, “Si! Tagore. Si Kaliman. Si la China Poblana.” I nod my head and decide that home or not home, I better learn more Spanish before I return to Oaxaca.
Kaliman eludes me at that time, I recognize Tagore as Tagore and later I ask someone about the reappearance of la China Poblana on that bus. I am told again that the china poblanas are a certain ethnic or casta group of young women from the town and state of Puebla and their typical clothes are supposed to have come from Asia. I learn many years later that in the 17th century anyone who came to the Americas from Asia on the Nao de China, the Manila Galleon, was considered a chino or a china. I look at a list of slaves brought to New Spain from Asia in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries—un chino de Bengala, un chino de Malabar, un chino de Manila.

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