Saturday, May 19, 2007

Letter to a missionary friend in London:

Sometimes I wish someone would try to talk me back into the christian faith of the evangelical kind. I have good memories of a church-going childhood and my parents' faith. But the last time I came home to visit my Dad, something else intruded from my unconscious.

He's just had breakfast and was reading his devotional guide at the breakfast table. I was sitting with him. My Dad is 88 years old, he reads with a magnifying glass and when he wears his hearing aid, I could carry on a conversation with him. But this morning he was reciting bible verses in English and as I watched him I started to cry as these thoughts came up from nowhere: Is this what you have become? Mouthing words that were given to you by an outsider; what has this faith done to you, dad?

I shuddered at these thoughts, Leon. Then I tried to find their source.

My father is the epitome of a split psyche visited upon him by the violence of colonialism. He fell deeply into the pond of Methodism and it shaped his life (and thus mine) forever. As a man of faith (he is a pastor), he is sought by others to preach, to officiate at baptisms, funerals and everything in between. The community respects him and has awarded him with many certificates and medals of appreciation. He seems to live for these moments of recognition.

As a husband and father, he is emotionally distant. My mother was very lonely inside the marriage but as a good submissive wife, she took it all as rightful sacrifice. My mother has passed away. My Dad is now under the care of my youngest sister. She, too, struggles to emotionally connect with my Dad.

So that morning two years ago, as he recited bible verses to me, I cried because I sensed this primal wounding (that was also mine). Perhaps I've been reading too much about patriarchy, capitalist control, gender oppression, colonialism, etc. Perhaps it was my recent immersion inindigenous literature and indigenous spirituality that made me see this split more clearly. Perhaps it's my pursuit of the works of THomas Berry about cosmic spirituality and ecology.

Yet in that moment, as I watched my father, I knew what I didn't want to become.

I tried to recall the moments when I've seen glimpses of my Dad's wholeness - the self buried beneath all that Methodist severe discipline of the mind and body (especially the body). I've seen it in his child-like delight in his garden and small aviary of lovebirds. I've watched him play with the birds and he is a totally different person. He would reach into the cage and take one of the birds in his hand and stroke its feathers gently. In that moment he is one with the bird, he is an innocent child who has never known violence.

In his garden he painstakingly pulls weeds on his arthritic knees. He stares at the intensity of the purple orchid; he is so proud of himself for coaxing this bloom. And this may not be environmentally sound but it makes me laugh -- he dares to paint the small boulders in his garden walkway with stunning red, sunny orange, and lapiz lazuli blue. The boulders line the walkway and the bright colors guide his failing eyes but I am guessing that, again, he draws a deep eros pleasure from these colors. In the soft warm breeze of a Pampanga afternoon, he sits content on his rocking chair. I can almost sense his gentleness now...minus the grating kind of hardness when he is trying so hard to be holy and righteous.

On the pulpit, he emulates the fiery talk of a hellfireandbrimstonepreacher. He quotes memorized bible verses and punctuates his homiletics with references to the United States or George Bush (all gathered from watching CNN International). He doesn't think critically about this practice -- it is what he knows and has learned to mimic perfectly.

Sometimes I could get him to ponder his own contradictions by telling him about my work, or why I believe I'm a better christian now than when I was a churchgoer. He tells me how proud he is of me and that what I write about is good and necessary. And then he would lapse again into praise for John Wesley and George Bush.

Most of the time, I can find humor in this irony. My tears and what has brought them on can recede again into the background. But I can think of them now and then when I encounter someone like you, Leon, and how you,too, struggle with your own contradictions.

Yesterday as I prepared my goodbye email to my students this semester, I found a line from Ben Okri's The Famished Road: "no injustice ever lasts,and no love ever dies...so keep the road open." I wish the Empire would remember this.

May your journey always be an open road,

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

The Shape of Things to Come...

...this phrase stayed with me as I left the student-initiated/taught Filipino American Experience course at my university today. This elective is offered based on student demand. As the course advisor/supervisor, my role is minor -- it mainly has to do with guiding the student-instructor in content recommendations, texts, and other resources. This semester the student-instructor took it upon herself to design the rest of the syllabus. During the semester, I only lectured twice and today I attended the last day of class because I wanted to see the final project presentations.

They began the class with the singing of "Lupang Hinirang" -- every week they have rehearsed the anthem, learned the vocabulary words and pronunciation. None of these students speak Filipino. . . I held back my tears....

For their final projects, each student chose a Filipino or Filipino American role model or hero/heroine. They had to prepare a performance monologue of "I am...." so I watched them role play Carlos Romulo, Philip Vera Cruz, Panday Pira, Diego Silang, Gabriela Silang, Manny Pacquiao, Cory Aquino, Gregoria de Jesus, Victoria Manalo Draves, Ernie Reyes, Jr., Piolo Pascual, Lea Salonga and a few more. The audience got a snapshot of the person's background and the historical significance of their lives.

This is the context of the above:

This course exists because of a small cohort of Filipino American students led by Rocky. Rocky came to our university as a freshman from Vallejo and his experience with the Pilipino Youth Coalition in Vallejo under Mel Orpilla (of the famous "Know History, Know Self"). He came with energy and vision; he initiated contact with me two years ago. He mobilized the Fil Am students on campus to demand a Fil Am course in Spring 06. Rocky volunteered to teach the course, and all the while he was already identifying the next student who would teach it in Spring 07. Laura took the helm from Rocky with the same commitment and hard work. Rocky has already talked to me about the next class (SP 08) and also the need to hold a retreat with the next cohort of club officers. Rocky is concerned about the continuity of the activism and advocacy work and he insists that my relationship with the students should remain strong (he is graduating next year).


For a student-taught class to be approved, there should be a petition signed by at least 20 students. This class has 18 students enrolled. They are not all Fil Ams; some are Asian Americans, Hispanic, Caucasian, and mixed race.

So here I was watching four White female students doing the roles of Panday Pira, Gabriela Silang, Ernie Reyes, Jr., and Vicky Manalo Draves. A Chinese American male student played the role of Manny Pacquiao. You get the picture! A multiracial, multi-ethnic, multicultural class focused on learning about the Philippines and the Filipino American experience.

THis is the shape of things to come...as Filipino American students share their cultural knowledge and practices with non-Fil Am friends, bridges are built, borders are crossed, the meaning of Kapwa becomes a lived experience.


Across campus, a Filipino American Outreach Advisor in the Pre-College Program has secured approval to make the Philippines the focus of its program of study for a six-week summer program for middle-schoolers called "Rising Stars." Again, this curriculum will focus on the Philippines and it will be the take-off point for the students to learn about their own cultures of origin. This program is a mentoring program for middle schoolers from low income households who will be guided to become the first generation in their families to go to college. The shape of things to come...


Our university is a small public university that is predominantly white, middle class, and female. Over the years the racial/ethnic minority rate has declined. In fact, the Asian and Pacific Islander Organization no longer exists. The Filipino American Students Association has absorbed the other Asian American students on campus. FAASSU is now the only ethnic club that is multiracial, multiethnic, multicultural student club on campus. Unlike other ethnic-specific student clubs, FAASSU has opened its doors to non-Fil Ams without losing its identity as a Filipino American club. This means that the non-Fil Am students who join FAASSU do so because they like being with their Fil Am friends, they enjoy the social events, they enjoy learning the history, they learn about themselves and their connection to others in the spirit of Kapwa.

I believe that this is a model student organization for showcasing the possibility of bordercrossing based on mutual recognition and equal respect. Sometimes ethnic student clubs are accused of being non-inclusive and therefore, are accused of "reverse racism." I do not see this happening in FAASSU...and for this, I am thankful that this is the shape of things to come...


On Friday, we are having send-off potluck for the graduating seniors. The other Fil Am staff at SSU are also involved in supporting the students...actually, even the community organizations in Sonoma County are supportive of FAASSU and in turn, the students often volunteer to participate in community events.

Even the Fil Am writers and poets on the FLIPS listserve are supporting the students by donating their books to the seniors. Additional books were donated by Eileen Tabios for the rest of the club members.

I am looking at the ten brown paper bags filled with poetry books and novels...

and I feel like a proud mother hen...

and then I look at my altar and thank all those who have done this work before.

oh...I haven't even mentioned the California Story Fund grant that we received from the California Council for the Humanities. This is for the "Remembering our Manongs" Oral History Project of the Filipino American National Historical Society, Sonoma County Chapter.
We already have a ten-minute video preview of this project...it will be presented at the

KAPWA CONFERENCE. Pls. visit the site.

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