Tuesday, July 27, 2004

On Rituals

Today the placenta was returned to the Earth. The parents created an altar on a mound of earth and placed: sea shells from the Philippines, orchids, cicada husk, and love notes to Noah from the parents and grandparents. Then a lemon tree was planted.

A symbol and consecration of Noah’s connection to the Great Circle of Life.

Rituals touch the depths of our Being through the participation of our senses – our hands in the dirt, our hands writing love notes, and bringing together sea shells and orchids – these beautiful creatures as precious as Noah – connecting continents and eons. Threads weaving the ancient past into the ways of the present.

How do we share these rituals in absentia? When they come to us via cyberspace, are they still authentic then? Does the emotional response evoked by the emailed note and photo constitute the power of ritual? If so, then who is to say that my absence wasn’t also a presence in a different dimension?

Rituals return us to memories of the past. In my case, a sad reminder of what I failed to do with my own placenta at my son’s birth. Now I facetiously blame the ones who, in the name of becoming modern, sold us the idea of birth control pills, circumcision at birth, and infant formula. No more midwives attending to home births; no more physician-shamans performing circumcision on boys at puberty, no more breastfeeding for the modern working mother.

But rituals never die; they come back to remind us of ancient wisdom. I am thankful that Noah will be breastfed. And he will be untouched by the knife.

In some indigenous cultures the placenta and the ombligo (navel cord) is buried under a tree or under the house as a symbol of the connection between the child and his birthplace, his ancestral home. This is the place where he belongs – to a clan and to a community. Perhaps more importantly it signifies his belonging to the Earth. Through ritual we acknowledge our relationship to the Great Spirit in all of creation and graciously and humbly accept our need to be nurtured and provided for through interdependent and interconnected place
with the family of the Earth.

Monday, July 26, 2004

Thanks, Sunny, for your post on the ongoing FANHS conference. 


Uh-oh...straight out of a Spike Lee film (She Hate Me)...a chatelaine version. I haven't actually seen Spike's new film but have seen Charlie Rose's interview. This film is about a young handsome black man recently fired from his job for being a whistleblower. Penniless, his wealthy lesbian friend make him an offer he couldn't refuse: yup, stud fees! Too bad Spike hasn't heard of Achilles! :-)

If you go here, you will see a picture of Noah Ray Strobel at 1day old. The other two photos are from Switzerland: one of Chateau de Bossey in Celigny where the consultation on Religion, Power, and Violence happened and the other is my favorite statue in all of Geneva.

Sunday, July 25, 2004

Latest political animated cartoon. Click here.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Poems Collaged from Pinoy Poetics; the numbers after the line indicate page number.

They say the pen is mightier than the sword, yet in my life there is no difference 26
Of course that isn’t always the case and I often find myself producing more crap than crepe from the immediate battles of words 154
All you have to do is look xi
When in doubt, E Pluribus Karaoke! 37
I am alien and citizen
And flow like wind chimes and whistle and jazz in a blue moon over
An incandescent capitalist universe because banks have bought the cosmos 76
Therefore I choose poetry. Poetry as an act of defiance against the incommunicability of being 82
One of these days I’m going to melt all the gold of Paris and turn it
Into money 97
After I have swallowed
The last of my cone and licked the traces of ice
Cream carefully off my fingers 150
Who cares if midnight shatters?
You? Then say so 174
Perhaps you will understand when I say now that my resolve to inflict vengeance on English is as intense as my gratitude to it 50
The full moon woke me up very early this morning 198
There is a radiance
In your eyes when you feel
For the first time
The pall of earth and sky 211
Maybe that is not enough for some, but for me, I find myself waiting for this blessing 240
To levitate in one spot, from one residence to the next
Leaving behind a strand of hair, a shoe
Or heck, even my damn whole heart 244
This long march towards black spaces, unknown spaces, fear of falling.
Only lifted now and then by the thought of meeting you ahead 245
Fearful of what comes next 253

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

I'm still trying to learn how to download photos on the blog...it's frustrating...

For the first time today, I was able to chat online with J in Jeddah, Lani in Geneva, C in Manila, O in Macao! -- I'm trying to check myself for unbridled excitement over this technology. This can be dangerously distracting.

In the meantime, over at Tatang's -- I noticed that he has temporarily traded his photoshoot-ing for target shooting. And Gura's aim looks better!

Thursday, July 15, 2004

The Filipino hostage in Iraq, Angelo de la Cruz, will be released when the last Filipino soldier leave Iraq by the end of July.

On Filipino cable tv program, I watch the folks in Pampanga tie yellow ribbons in their home, keep prayer vigils, politicians visiting the family. Someone has even donated a house and lot to Angelo's family as a welcome gift for his homecoming. Teachers of Angelo's children cry with the family. The emotional and spiritual outpouring that marks this crisis is remarkable and I can't help but affirm how truly Filipinos value each other.

The OFWs in the Middle East are praising Arroyo's move. They believe that this will keep them safer in the Middle East - perhaps from now on the kidnappers will spare Filipinos. But the praise of Filipinos for this political move also symbolizes the action of a people willing to defy the big elephant.

GMA has been hanging her hat on the support of the Bush administration and touting the country as a junior partner in the war on terror. With this open defiance of the US; Arroyo is earning points with folks disillusioned with her earlier stance. Does she sense that the support of folks back home is more important than the praise from Washington? Did she think of the consequences of defying the US and went ahead just the same? Perhaps she finally found her courage.

While in Geneva, it was mentioned that perhaps I should be part of the Ecumenical Association of Third World Theologians and the name of Filipino feminist theologian Sr. Mary John Mananzan came up. There have been so many times that the name of Sr. Mary John has come up in conversations that I am now on a quest to find out how to connect with her in person. Usually when I get an inkling that I should try to connect with someone, the questions are not fully formed in my mind. I simply follow my intuition.

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

It is worth reposting this Stuart Hall quote from Rona's blog:

What IS the point of Cultural Studies?
"Against the urgency of people dying in the streets, what in God's name is the point of cultural studies? What is the point of the study of representations, if there is no response to the question of what you say to someone who wants to know if they should take a drug and if that means they'll die two days later or a few months earlier? At that point, I think anybody who is into cultural studies seriously as an intellectual practice, must feel, on their pulse, its ephemerality, its insubstantiality, how little it registers, how little we've been able to change anything or get anybody to do anything. If you don't feel that as one tension in the work that you are doing, theory has let you off the hook."--Stuart Hall

This resonates with me today because I've been struggling to write a paper for a book on the historical, cultural, and pedagogical implications of race. I keep thinking of Eileen's words about her poetics: I want to bring the world into my poems. How do I bring the world into a twenty-page academic paper on race? After I have defined the terms that I'm using and describe the context, I'm already out of space and there's no further room to talk about specific teaching strategies and case studies.And in any case, I wonder how many words can be said about this topic that isn't already out there?

As I am stuck on this seat with my computer I look out the window and the sun is shining and beckons me outside. I would rather be among the flowers. I would rather be reading Rumi.

Then I remind myself that Stuart Hall believes in the intellectual vocation and its capacity to change the world. This thought would probably take me through another hour of writing.

Monday, July 12, 2004

While we are on the topic of the St Louis World's Fair, thanks to Jean, here's another essay to read.

Sunday, July 11, 2004

Thanks, Jean for calling attention to wily filipino's post on Fil. soldiers in Iraq.We have 51 soldiers in Iraq but there are about 6,000 Filipinos working specifically for US military installations and US subcontractors in Iraq. I watched a local Pinoy channel interview on OFWs who were barred from leaving for Iraq and many of them said it is just as dangerous for them to stay in the Philippines as it is to go to Iraq. In the Philippines, they will starve and can't feed their families; in Iraq they risk their lives. They say it's all the same. A couple of them even said they have already sold the carabao and they are deep in debt so they must start working immediately.(They were allowed to leave after about 24 hours).

Welcome, Rona!

I am salivating reading about Gura's trips to farmers markets in search of the perfect longganisa, bangus, pinoy veggies, balut. How can she do this while she's on a lemonade fast?

Talking about soulfood, when my longganisa substitute - Sonoma Sausage' Hawaiian Portuguese sausage - went up another dollar, I switched to Aidell's chicken and turkey maple sausage and found out it was better than the Hawaiian one. More lean too. Once in a while I satisfy my craving for crispy daing na bangus with farmed trout from Costco and it usually means taking out the electric frying pan outdoors/back patio so that the house doesn't smell fishy for three days. It's worth all the bother.

On days when I miss my grandma and Ima, make a vat of garlic fried rice, chop tomatoes, fry eggs, sausage, and I eat with my hands. My grandma always raised her right leg on the bench and rested her right elbow on her bent knee at the dining table. That's the way to eat!

Friday, July 09, 2004

Jean - Herminia Dasal's photographs are mesmerizing!Do you know that "dasal" means prayer?

Barb - I vote for Arab and Arab American Literature!!

Encore congratulations to the engagement of Rhett and Michelle!! and read about how Eileen plans to negotiate the dowry!

After traveling for a month, it's hard to find my bearings back. I hate it that I hardly have time to enjoy the memories of new places, new faces, new ideas. Everything swirling around my head and heart.

Today, I am shopping for a rocking chair. The grandson will be here next week.

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

Resurrecting this blog after an hiatus with a New York Times Book Review of Filipina author Monette Adeva Maglaya's new book, THE COMPLETE
How to Thrive, How to Be Fully Alive (PDI Books,
paper, $19.95).

The New York Times
July 4, 2004

First, Get a Green Card. Next, Hire a Publicist.

Lately I haven't been a good immigrant. I can't get
myself to work an 80-hour week. I won't walk 20 blocks
to save a subway fare. And I don't have that crazed,
adrenaline-driven certainty that life will soon get
better for me or mine. Maybe it's the gloomy times we
live in. Maybe it's the economy. Maybe it's the war.
But most likely it's that I'm sated -- the young
immigrant's hunger and worries are gone. I'm not fat
and doughy just yet, but my midriff looks, to quote an
old friend, ''prosperous.''

Want and fear drive America: the want of security,
dignity and wild affluence, the fear of coming up
short on all counts, the fear of extinction in an
unforgiving market economy that rewards only the
tireless and the unblinking. ''Remember the lesson of
the . . . dodo bird,'' Monette Adeva Maglaya cautions
the newcomer in her remarkable new book, THE COMPLETE
How to Thrive, How to Be Fully Alive (PDI Books,
paper, $19.95). ''One must learn to adapt or else,

I say Maglaya's book is ''remarkable'' not because it
is a compendium of bizarre clip art, well-worn
inspirational cliches, practical advice and religious
hoo-ha, all of which it is, but because few books have
come closer to telling me what it means to be an
immigrant in America today. And if Maglaya is to be
believed, it means living in a land of turbo-Darwinism
that would shock the likes of Huck Finn and Augie
March, a landscape of hucksters and dreamers, of
work-at-home schemes, fake children's modeling
contests and rampant identity fraud. It means, for the
most part, living in Southern California amid tribes
of Cambodian doughnut tycoons and Chinese laundry
empires. It means believing in God (and preferably
Jesus Christ), and making him (them) a part of
everything you do. Religious, resourceful, highly
flexible and yet essentially conservative, the
immigrant is the most reliably American of all
Americans, the indispensable citizen, the bedrock of
the American dream with all its tainted pleasures and
millennial lunacies.

That said, the face of immigration, or at least the
face of immigration guidebooks, is unrecognizable to
me today. When my family came to the United States
from the Soviet Union around 1980, we were given a
slim instructional volume from a resettlement agency.
Aimed squarely at the Soviet immigrant, the book
stressed the prodigious use of deodorant and the need
to grin painfully whenever an American was present
(''smell-'n'-smile'' is how I committed this advice to

As far as Maglaya is concerned, the modern
superimmigrant has no need for such obvious
instruction. Instead, he should gain quick proficiency
with MapQuest and Google. Once these are mastered
there are ''very strong arguments'' in favor of
learning English, ''apart from the usual benefit of
being able to read road signs.'' With English and the
yield sign under his belt, the immigrant faces the
quandary of finding a good house servant. Watch out,
Maglaya warns, for they don't come cheap in this
country. Immigrants who have had ''domestic help to do
things for them'' will be ''in for a shock.'' Now that
the tempest-tossed refugee has secured the services of
a reputable manservant, it is time to find a suitable
activity to occupy his time. ''Should he go into
business? Should he pursue the arts?'' These are all
difficult decisions to make for someone who has just
sneaked across the Rio Grande, but if one finally
settles on entrepreneurship it is often helpful to
''get a professional spokesperson or a mascot.'' You
know, to help out with publicity.

The author, who came to the United States in the
1980's from the Philippines with a master's degree in
communications, leaves us with a list of recommended
books, including Pat Buchanan's ''Death of the West:
How Dying Populations and Immigrant Invasions Imperil
Our Country and Civilization'' and other examples of
''the boat is full'' philosophy. Maglaya's assessment
of the way immigrant groups perceive and treat other
immigrant groups is yet another remarkable aspect of
this book. We learn, for example, that ''Jews and
Armenians have long histories of being involved in
business in every area around the world where they
settle,'' while Koreans have ''a somewhat hardy
resistance to acculturation.'' Mexicans, despite being
abundant in the author's adopted Southern California,
are suspiciously absent from the list of enterprising
immigrant groups. Possibly they have little of value
to impart to Maglaya's ''bright, bushy-tailed eager
beaver of a newcomer.'' The world rightfully looks to
America as the nation most welcoming to immigrants --
and yet what many highly educated immigrants do not
know, or do not care to know, about one another's
struggles could fill a book. This one, for instance.

But I couldn't help learning from Maglaya. She has
compiled so many facts about living in America that by
the end of this book I felt genuinely indebted to her.
Were you aware, just for example, that disreputable
modeling schools are a big draw because ''one of the
hot buttons among immigrant parents is their dreams of
success for their children''? Or that the policy of
the United States is not to admit ''terrorists, Nazis
and people likely to become dependent on welfare,''
possibly in that order? Or that you can stop credit
bureaus from selling your name by calling
1-888-5OPT-OUT? Or that ''when pumping gas,'' you
should ''prefer to do it yourself . . . rather than
give your card to the attendant,'' who can ''steal
your number at random''?

After learning the difference between Chapter 7 and
Chapter 13 bankruptcy and the importance of stuffing
every piece of financial mail into a good paper
shredder, I felt more ready than ever to participate
in our nation's rich economic life. Also, I felt
scared -- scared like an immigrant; scared that in
this capricious land everything I have worked for
could be taken away with the click of a computer mouse
or by my enrollment in the wrong modeling school.

Between meditations on immigrant fear and immigrant
striving, the author keeps our spirits up with
inspirational quotations from the likes of Shakespeare
(''Rest, rest, perturbed spirit'') and Jenny Craig
(''Self-love is the only weight-loss aid that really
works in the long run''). There are also some
exquisitely strange, naive, almost moving,
illustrations -- including a homemade collage of Jesus
floating above the earth. For Maglaya, being an
immigrant means finding solace in religion. There are
few paragraphs devoted to an immigrant's natural
propensity toward ''homesickness, loneliness and
despair,'' the debilitating feelings that crushed many
members of my parents' immigrant generation, but lots
of talk about craning one's neck toward Eternity.
''Look heavenward,'' the author instructs us. ''Put
God first in your life and everything falls into
place.'' ''Coming to America may have been part of
God's Grand Design in order for you'' to fulfill your
purpose. And for the harried, multitasking immigrant,
this advice: ''Jesus Christ was stressed too.''

Along with the Father and the Son, there is a worship
of Country. At a time when most of the world is
learning to despise us, the immigrant's faith in
America's promise remains staggering and, to many,
inspiring. Why else would millions of people regularly
give up their mother tongue, their childhood friends,
their elderly parents, their native hills and mesas
and, of course, their cooks, chauffeurs and houseboys
to come here? Maglaya puts it all into perspective:
''Barring unforeseen catastrophic circumstances
induced by humans and extremely rare cosmic collisions
like a comet or asteroid scoring a direct fatal hit on
earth . . . America will continue to hold a prime
position in world geopolitics for some time.''

I don't know if she's right on that one. But I am
going to get that paper shredder.

Gary Shteyngart is the author of ''The Russian
Debutante's Handbook,'' a novel.

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