Saturday, May 28, 2005

And next week, the Filipino American Women's Network conference in New York organized by Perla Daly and her volunteers. A Book of Her Own will be launched on Friday, June 3rd, from 4-5:30 along with other books and their authors and presented by "moderator-extraordinaire" Bino Realuyo.

Then on June 4th, I will moderate a panel on "Visionary: Spirit of Air" with panelists Tesa Totengco, entrepreneur with RAFE of NY, Rachel Bundang who is finishing her PhD in Divinity studies, Vivienne Angeles, professor at La Salle University in Philadelphia, and Gina Alfonso, founder of Cartwheel Foundation.

I am equally excited and looking forward to meeting some of the women I have admired but haven't met personally, like Sister Mary John Mananzan who just happens to be in NY on these dates and has agreed to keynote one of the lunches....also Delia Aguilar, Joan May Cordova, Letecia Layson and many more!

Graduation time!

Congratulations to Barb on her MFA!
My former students, PeterGolpeo and Cheryl Elacio - both of whom are featured in Coming Full Circle. Peter is graduating with an MSW from Cal State East Bay (Hayward), and Cheryl from Dentistry at Case Western Reserve U. I feel like a proud Mama!

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Today is a double-gift day:

In the mail:
1. Copy of A BOOK OF HER OWN: WORDS AND IMAGES TO HONOR THE BABAYLAN - still hot off the press like warm pan de sal.
2. Copy of Amerasia Journal's latest issue on "Orientalism and the Legacy of Edward Said" which includes my book review of The Braided Tongue. (Although this link has not been updated to reflect the latest issue).

I think of my mother who didn't live long enough to see this new book but I sense that she knows she is the author of all the gifts that her children continue to bring into the world. She is my babaylan.

I've been thinking about this: Creativity and Violence in the late 20th century (Ashis Nandy) - (pp. 214-221)

...Nothing probably has 'freed' the arts more than the two world wars. What we have done or not done with that freedom is a different matter. On this level, our passionate affair with dispassionate, professional, technicised mass murders have shaped our concepts of creativity and creative freedom. We know the source of our creative freedom but we do not want to know it. The colossal destruction that we have inflicted on our fellow humans has made us wary of our new unbridled creativity. That destructiveness has also made us terribly insecure; we are afraid that the same laboratory principles that have helped us kill millions in this century might be applied to us some day. Our destructiveness has brought us face to face with our deep fears of transcience, but without the benefit of theories of transcendence that made such fears bearable in earlier centuries.

The anxiety of self-confrontation, has been, perhaps understandably, matched by carefully nurtured forgetfulness, or as the presently fashionable expression goes, erasures.

Some psychoanalysts believe than human creativity is essentially restitution; it seeks to compensate for feelings of anger and hatred that we nurture within us, and the moral anxieties these feelings trigger. From this point of view, creativity is a form of atonement; it is born in our innate destructiveness and our fear of and guilt about such destructiveness. There has been ample reason for us to atone in this century and, if we take seriously what some of the early psychoanalysts ventured, our creativity should have not only flowered but also borne the stamp of this massive guilt. Perhaps, to some extent it does. However, it seems that we have been so brutalized, so exposed to and benumbed by the wanton, gratuituous violence in this century , either directly or through the media, that our creativity does not really carry the full imprint of the violence we have seen. Our creativity is built not on the ego defence of restitution and symbolisation but on massive, cultivated intellectualisation and on the more primitive defence of denial.

While our cognitive sense has been challenged by our exposure to large-scale violence, our emotional and intuitive selves has been more numbed than challenged. I have come to suspect that this style of studying and talking about violence may have something to do with the West's genocidal record outside the West during the last four hundred years. The extermination of millions is not easy to live with, it cries out for elaborate intellectualisation and rationalisation. Even the best-studied genocide in the world, the European holocaust, bears the mark of that cultivated forgetfulness.
Our creativity is partial, I suspect, because our atonement is partial. Our atonement is partial, in turn, because it does not acknwoledge the full range of the violence on which the modern, disciplinary knowledge of violence is founded.

However, I am not pessimistic. The limited creative understanding of violence is not the last word on the subject...Till the inter-war years, in the case of virtually every great artist or writer in Europe, it was possible to more or less precisely state what convention or norm he or she has broken to mark out a place for himself or herself in the world of creativity. ...That is now less true of the world of humanities, literature, and even music. Norms and conventions have already been broken with such impunity and ease in these disciplines that even minor writers and artists have gleefully got into the game. Often, you have to pretend to break a norm that already lies in smithereens around you.
This is mainly a plea to admit that the scale of destruction in this century has created an environment of inner exile and uprooting that has not allowed new conventions and traditions to crystallise in the world of creativity.

more to follow...

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

I might complain about students who, during finals week, come up with all kinds of reasons as to why they can't turn in the finals on time: my laptop was stolen! my hard drive crashed! my mother-in-law died! my brother has cancer! And this one from a student who was absent nine weeks out of 15: you make me feel as if I'm a horrible person! when I told her that I didn't think she intended to pass the course as she asked for the final exam.

But then there is the special student (or two or three) who feel that they've been transformed by a course. Read an entry excerpt:

Here's an excerpt:

I would have never expected for there to be an Asian American studies class at SSU. Not only was this the first time anybody besides my mother tried to teach me about anything Filipino, but professor Strobel was the first positive Filipino woman I have ever met. That meant a lot because it assisted me tremendously in breaking down the negative experiences I've had with my father's side of the family. I now have a better understanding of things. I want to learn more, I want to say more, I want to teach more to others. I helped myself, stood up, spoke my mind a few times and even yelled so hard I popped a blood vessel in my eye. I wasn't just a passive person for the first time in my life, but shared at least a little bit of what was going on in my head.

Thank you, Michelle. I teach because of students like you; you have taught me much this semester about "Gen x".

Saturday, May 21, 2005

I am happy to hear that Rene Navarro - taoist healer, poet, writer, martial artist - is back from his teaching and healing trips around the world. As I re-read his writings, it is reassuring to hear him say that taoist practices are rooted in shamanism. Read more about Rizal and escrima and zen.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

I've realized that my earlier post about negative course evaluations was the result of a pedagogical mistake. So I self-corrected in the Wednesday section of the same course and voila!! the class was receptive, attentive. It was the best class of the semester for this section. I even saw some "Eureka!" moments in some students as I lectured about the process we went through together for 15 weeks. As one of them said, "I now understand what you mean by transcendence -- that I can actually acknowledge (and not erase) differences as long as I do not maintain hierarchies in my head about them." Or as another student said: "As someone who is theoretically-oriented, the literature helped me understand that stories, myths, poems, also contain history, politics -- all of which helped me understand my life and the history I carry on my back."

I was only concerned with one student who said that doing her poetry journal using Eileen's book was a very traumatic experience for her. I have a feeling that the combination of reading Roshni's The Braided Tongue, stirred up some unconscious stuff via the poems and the novel. I hope she will be okay. Oh, the power of literature!

Thanks to Jean who offered comfort and from whom I'm learning a lot about pedagogy.

And...15 students in my Asian American seminar class came for pancit, adobo, tofu, tropical fruit salad, and pan de sal last night as our end-of- the-course celebration and send-off for graduates. I enjoy this part of teaching as I get to eavesdrop on student-talk about their lives. I'm proud of the student who said that she can now identify herself as Asian American because she understands that she is part of its history as a Hmong. Or the student who is raising two daughters and is finally graduating. Or the Fil Am students who now plan to go to the Philippines as part of a study-abroad program. Someone even said that this was the best course she's taken in all her SSU years!

This is the heart of teaching...and sometimes you get there by way of a full stomach. As one student remarked: My mother will be happy to know that I was well-fed today.

This is what makes me a Filipina... take the Filipina into a classroom and she'll find a way to smuggle adobo into it! Work is fun.

Monday, May 16, 2005


An ethnic studies course is about the experiences of people of color -- this includes, but is not limited to, how they experience the white world, white people, white privilege. There are historical, political, and educational rationales for requiring that college students take ONE ethnic studies course before they graduate.

To understand the "ethnic" experience, whiteness must be made visible. White supremacy is at the very foundation of the construction of this nation. What makes whiteness so powerful is its invisibility. Some comments from today's course evaluations:

"I am not white; I'm a human being. Don't lump me with white people."

"I feel I am not validated as a (white) person in this class." (to which another student said: you may not feel validated here, but outside of this room, everything validates you!).

"Why are we doing the same stereotyping of white people that we say we shouldn't do with people of color?"

"There is no such thing as white privilege; it's all about money."

"My son can't find a job because he is white. Tell me that is not racism."

"Too many books to read! Show movies instead."

"I question your using your friends' books for this course."

Fifteen weeks is not enough to facilitate the development of dialogic reflection via ethnic literature. While large class size (50!) makes teaching difficult, I feel students resist the texts because of the discomfort and defensiveness provoked by the texts of the Other.

Discomfort and defensiveness comes from a dualistic mindset, i.e. "if the Other expresses thoughts and feelings critical of whiteness and white privilege, then I feel judged." Whereas, in dialogic reflection one is required to listen loudly so that empathy might find a place in the encounter, dualistic thinking traps one into the either/or position.

I welcome student feedback but there are days when my capacity for large compassion falls short of the (unreasonable) demands.

Sunday, May 15, 2005


In addition to Nick and Michelle's posts about Ramona Diaz' Imelda, I too saw the PBS late night showing of the film. Like Nick, I feel that there could have been more explicit (and explosive!) critique of Imelda but the film is smart enough to assume that the viewer can make sense of this without much prodding. The Imelda in this film is a complex portrayal even though whenever she spoke she sounded quite simplistic (reminds me of Dubya's language sometimes). Her "new age" vocabulary could very well be what she absorbed from the 70s when Science of the Mind and "positive thinking" paradigms were all the rage in Manila.

1. Or is this simply a product of her own education under the US educational system? After all, the film opens with her rendition of Irving Berlin's God Bless America (the Philippines) and she tells of how she was taught to pledge allegiance to the US flag. Hence, her sense of being betrayed by the "parent" she was taught to trust.
2. Colonial Mimicry at its best -- especially how she learned to use her capital (Beauty!).

The rest of the film is a collage of remarks made by her allies and foes alike:
Christian Espiritu, her couturier, belatedly repents of his complicity in the making of Imelda.
Jo Ann Maglipon and Pete Lacaba's short spiel about the martial law days and illegal detention of political prisoners, human rights abuses.
Richard Holbrooke: Imelda is all about personal power, not leadership (paraphrased).
Bongbong Marcos: She has amazing instincts!

I sense that Ramona Diaz' own ambivalent feelings towards this woman is reflected in the film. But in avoiding any kind of essentialist rendition of Imelda, what opportunities were missed?

Saturday, May 14, 2005

What do you do for fun?

I was sort of taken aback the other day when a friend whom I haven't seen for some time asked: Leny, what do you do for fun? It took me a few long seconds to say, "we go to Rialto a lot for indie films." But as I ruminated on this question and why it gave me pause to say something that sounded like "fun" it occured to me that I normally don't think of my life in terms of fun/not-fun dichotomy. The spouse reminded me that I wouldn't be teaching if I didn't have fun doing it. My fun is cooking my son's favorite dishes and taking it over to his house on weekends when we are invited to visit. My fun is reading from midnight to 1am after watching The Daily Show and Charlie Rose. My fun is pulling weeds in the garden and talking to the plants.

Now -- what would really be fun!tastic is to visit this nursery in western Sonoma County before it closes and is sold by Maggie W because she can no longer hold onto it. I fun!tasize that I would buy it from her and then have my son, who is a professional nurseryman, tend to it as he loves rare and unusual plants especially the carnivorous variety. But I know that on an academic salary this is only a dream. My fun is dreaming.

When someone asks: what do you do for fun? the assumption is that Life is not fun and one must carve out "fun" time in order to make it worth all the "not fun" times. I was never taught or socialized to think of Life in this way; in fact, I was already a working adult when I learned that vacation (fun!) is something you earn as you work (not fun!) 8 to 5, 52 weeks a year, give or take a few holidays. My father never took us on "vacation" -- if by that is meant taking the family to the beach or to the mountains for a week or so of nothing but fun. We always just went places where we had relatives and friends to visit but no one said "we are on vacation."When my Lola came to visit and stayed for weeks, no one said "she's on vacation with us."

What I've observed is that Filipinos (generalizing here, but tell me if it resonates with you!) live their lives in a sort of seamless way. When I was working in the Philippines, we took our merienda-lunch- siesta-merienda routines seriously. Work,tsismis,work. Or when we went out after work to a jazz bar, for example, we continued talking about work even then. My brother, while playing golf with his buddy who is a doctor, consults him about his diabetes and gets medical advice outside of the doctor's office. Or at a cocktail party one is introduced to a lawyer who happens to do immigration law and suddenly finds himself being asked for legal advice for a relative who is t-n-t and wants to change status.

This kind of seamlessness is not unproblematic within a culture that maintains a sealed (no leaks!) wall between the two compartments. Fun. Not Fun. Vacation. Work. Perhaps it is this kind of rigidity that is so unnatural to the body's own rhythms (and the soul's need for wholeness unmarred by linear time) that makes so many sick -- judged by the number of books being sold on how to be happy, or more research findings that say Americans are more affluent now yet are still unhappy...or judging from the profits of pharmeceuticals. Well, this might sound like a long shot...but you get my drift.

[Which reminds me: Here's a professor, Julian Boyd, who broke this rule (via Jean).]

What do you do for fun, Leny? I should have asked in return: You mean, when I'm awake or when I'm asleep?

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Protecting the Human Rights of Migrant Domestic Workers Employed by the Diplomatic Community
(Note: My friend in Geneva shared this short talk given by a Filipina at the Geneva Forum for Philippine Concerns. I share it here because, so often, these issues affecting the lives of so many Filipinas escape my/our notice and consciousness).
Good afternoon, my name is L and I have been living here in Geneva for 20 years. I'm a Filipino, separated from my husband, and I have two daughters, 32 and 27 years old; they're both working in Tokyo right now.
Today, I would like to share with you some of my reflections based on real experiences either by me or my friends who work in the domestic sector of the foreign diplomats in Geneva.
THe first time I came here, I had no papers, considered what we call "undocumented" and I worked with a rich Lebanese family who made me work before everyone wakes up in the morning and until everyone sleeps at night, with only a few hours off in a week, and with a salary much lower than the minimum. Despite of that I stayed with them for 3 years.
In my search for an Employer who can give me a working permit, I stumbled onto a Sudan Diplomat working at the UN. We agreed that they they will try me for a month, and if they're contented with my work they will provide me with a Working Permit. The work is 4hours once a week in exchange for a working permit and a 120 Swiss Francs a month. But in 3 weeks that I worked with them, I think, that family thought I'm their slave; aside from the house work that's piling, the wife's attitude towards me is like an Army Commandant. To make the story short, I backed out from them.
It was in 1990 when I found a job with the family of an Iraqi Diplomat married to a Swiss woman. The salary was just half of what I got from my former rich employer, CHF 700, but because of the papers, I agreed to do all the job in their house from cleaning, to taking care of their children and cooking.
Then luck struck me when a job was offered in the house of an Ambassador. That's the work I kept until now. Though my salary is, I'm sure, lower compered to others with a work like mine, but with my patience I have stayed in this job until now. With my last Ambassador (he left for good last week), I am contented and happy with my work. Of all the Ambassadors that I have worked for, he is the best. My NO PROBLEM AMbassador.
Why I call him MY NO PROBLEM AMBASSADOR? Because every favor I asked ever since the first time he was here, his reply was always NO PROBLEM. I asked for a salary raise, he replied NO PROBLEM. I asked about my separation pay, the reply was NO PROBLEM. I asked permission to go out shopping, the reply was, again, NO PROBLEM. I was just afraid that if I asked him it is okay to quit my job and he will also reply NO PROBLEM.
Unlike the Ambassador before him, that when I asked for a raise, I got an answer like, YOU CAN GO AROUND AND LOOK FOR A JOB WHO CAN GIVE YOU THE SALARY YOU WANT. I just said THANK YOU and go to my room as fast as I could 'cause i can't help but cry. Since then, I felt like I'm ready to sulk in one corner each time I saw him.
Anyway, not all Diplomats are like my NO PROBLEM Ambassador, I hope and pray that this people, the other Diplomats could one be, if not 100% like my NO PROBLEM Ambassafor, but even if only 75%, that's already great and acceptable.
1. You see, those Diplomat Employers know that the Working Permits that they provide are very important to us, and some of them take advantage of that privilege accorded to them. I say only some of them, because while others are kind-hearted, you just can count on your fingers those who treat & see us as human beings. They want us to respect them, but do we get also the respect we deserve as individuals?

2. Most of them imposed on their Domestics the rules from their own country. And if their Domestics came from the same country as them, the salary they give is based on the rate from the country of origin because they said that theirs is also the same, both of which, are too low for the Swiss standards. But unlike the Diplomats, who get clothing allowance, food allowance and even transportation allowance, & lots of other allowances apart from their monthly salary, their Domestics only get the monthly salary. Imagine how expensive everything is here in Switzerland! For that low monthly salary, the working hours even exceeds the regular working hours here in Switzerland & I’m sure in other countries, too – and without any extra pay, without bonuses, or even 13th month pay.

3. In another case, a salary based from the country of origin, which is only equivalent to 1/6 of the salary imposed here in Switzerland, and with the promise to deposit the monthly salary of the Domestic Helper in her bank account in the country of origin. Sad to say, the Domestic found out that after 6 months, no salary has been deposited in her bank account. But then we know that Salary is not the major factor of Abuse; mental & physical abuse is the worst that can happen to someone working as a Domestic Helper.

4. Others are locked up inside the house so they can’t talk to their compatriots, so they won’t have any knowledge that what their Employers are doing to them is not right. This often results in physical enjuries. This is the case of another Filipina who fell down the window of a 4th floor building trying to escape from her employer who happens to be her relative, too. After many years she’s still here in Geneva because of her Medical treatment, but the case haven’t been solve yet.

5. The world sees the domestic job as the most lowly of all jobs, but is there anything, more depressing than to be raped by one’s employer? Can money bring back your dignity? You cannot even sue the Diplomat-rapist as his country recalled him from duty and what’s so depressing is they assigned him to another country with the same duty, as if nothing had happened. So you’re left alone with a part of your life shattered.

6. The most cases that we often don’t hear around, are the mental abuses, that even the ones working in the Missions & Embassies (they’re not the Diplomats), the Local Staffers are also victims. You do what the Boss wants even in the coldest winter snow or they’ll create stories to kick you out of your job, and worst of all, they don’t even respect the tenure of your job, not even giving you even a few days notice, they want you to be out of their sight right away, they do it. Well, that’s good enough, if they’ll compensate also the few years left ‘till you retire, but if you’re already near the age of retirement, who’s going to hire you again? Even if you’re still young at age, but the "no notice" at all will create hardships in your daily life and some of them did get physically bothered for sometime caused by stress and depression. All this results to abuses we all swallow and kept so not to lose that PRECIOUS WORKING PERMIT they provide us.

7. In Japan for example, some of the Diplomats there used the official Driver of the Ambassador or the Embassy, as helpers when they have parties without any extra pay, even an overtime pay. At the same time, you can’t complain because you want to keep your working permit.

The Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs have passed a set of rules known as Directive on the Hiring of Private Servants by International Civil Servants (Diplomats & Higher UN Staffs). The Diplomats are the one who know the contents of that "Directive", while their employees doesn’t. Even if they know about the existence of this "Directive", most of them don’t follow what’s stated in there.

So if they have made their employees sign a contract stating facts not included, such as, when it comes to salary, lower than what is in the Directives, there already exists an intention of EXPLOITATION. Of course, we will sign what’s stated in the contract as we all know that the Working Permits are very important to us, but they’re the ones who know that what they’re doing is not right. I think, financial problems are only second to mental & physical abuse. We can still do our work even with a small salary as long as they treat us like human beings or best, like a family.

The above are only a few examples of various instances of exploitation, abuses and maltreatment, aside from unjust regard to the Domestic employment status.

The big and seemingly unanswerable question is: CAN WE STOP THIS ABUSES & EXPLOITATION FROM HAPPENING?
The answer is in our hands.

If we just sulk in one corner thinking there’s nothing we can do, then we are the loser. This kind of attitude is like a malady, a CANCER that we have to avoid from happening rather than let it happen & damage our well-being.

Thank You.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Be Afraid! Be very afraid! -- I do not sign all the petitions that arrive in my inbox but this one I did. Below is the letter from Moveon.org re the most recent comments of Pat Robertson.

On Sunday morning, Christian Coalition founder Pat Robertson told TV viewers nation-wide that the threat posed by liberal judges is "probably more serious than a few bearded terrorists who fly into buildings." When an incredulous George Stephanopoulos asked if Robertson really believed that these judges posed "the most serious threat America has faced in nearly 400 years of history, more serious than al Qaeda, more serious than Nazi Germany and Japan, more serious than the Civil War?," he responded, "George, I really believe that." [1]

These comments were not made in isolation. In fact, Robertson's statement is only the most outrageous example of a growing effort from the extreme right to whip up an intense fear and hatred of American judges — including comments from Republican congressmen and senators intimidating, threatening and even justifying outright violence against judges. [2] The strategy is designed to build support for the Republican "nuclear" scheme to break the rules and stack the courts — and it is poisonous to our democracy. It must stop here.

That's why we are launching a national petition demanding that Bill Frist and Tom DeLay publicly reject Robertson's statement. If they do, it will send a clear signal that this type of dangerous incitement against officers of the law is not welcome in our democracy. And if they don't, it will send an equally clear signal about how far they are willing to go. Please sign today:


Tuesday, May 03, 2005

I enjoyed Gura's post on pekpek power about her directorial debut at Bindlestiff of Dalagas and Tomboys. And I agree that she and Tatang are a perfect match. And speaking of perfect matches, cant' help howling at this story from Sister Mary Thesis (via Gura's blog). It is sometimes mind-boggling that in multiracial/multiethnic San Francisco people still stare at Filipino-white couples. And what is it about old white dudes who always want to tap you on the shoulder and tell you about some Filipina they know?

But here's an interesting intro by a Filipino man who is married to a white woman: Leny, this is C...she is the mother of my children. I don't know exactly how to read this. She started to walk away as he introduced her to me and didn't seem interested at all. Oh well.

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