Thursday, June 28, 2007

June 28 entry. wow.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Sexual Crimes and Colonial Trauma

Recently received an email from a lawyer asking me to be a "cultural expert" in the case of a Fil Am client accused of a sexual crime against a female minor. The lawyer wants to know if I could provide "cultural insight" on his client's response to a "bizarre interrogation" that led to a false confession.

This is not the first time I've been asked by lawyers to be a "cultural expert" on sexual crimes committed by Filipino/Fil Am clients. Prior to this last request, I turned down another request because I didn't feel qualified to address sexuality issues in Filipino culture. But last year, during our Fulbright trip, a feminist professor did a lecture on the connection between sexual (mis)behavior and colonial trauma which confirmed my own intuition on the subject.

I usually have a difficult time theorizing about a subject matter that I haven't personally dealt with on the conscious level. Sexuality is one of those issues. As the various pieces of this subject are making their way into the surface of the psyche, I am beginning to discern certain connections (sorry, you won't get my personal story here).

Some broad strokes on this topic:
1. The split between the body, mind, soul and spirit: history, social construction, beginnings of western dualism.
2. Uncolonized Indigenous cultures: sexual norms and taboos are different from western modern constructs.
3. If Jung is right, are colonial projects and projections the manifestation of this psychic split in the western self -- a primal wound in need of healing?
4. How then do the colonized, as the repository of colonial projections, internalize this wounding? How is the colonizer damaged by same?
5. How does the colonial wounding affect the psyche, especially its powerful sexual aspects?

Ok. Too broad. Can you please backchannel if you have more thoughts on this?

Colette Gaudin translating Gaston Bachelard
It is the pen which dreams.

Bachelard's philosophy...focuses on the linguistic experience that reveal, in being, an irresistible movement toward well-being. His work is unified by the desire to demonstrate the integrating force of the imagination, and it evolves into a cosmotherapy rather than an ontology. To be sure, imaginary life is not random...

The more reverie expands to the dimensions of the cosmos, the more the limits between the world and the subject become blurred...as a result we're left with the unresolved question: "who speaks, the dreamer or the world?"...the subject he reintroduces in his description of the poetic experience is a subject that discover and rediscover itself in the poetic instant as a "minimum of being." This rarefied cogito breathes at the center of a solitary wisdom bordering on mysticism.

We could say that an image really imagined is also an image that contains a truth about human reality. Such an image, by expanding the subject, is necessarily a source of happiness.

His books offer lessons for working, reading, breathing, and dreaming well, all of which constitute an art of living poetically. The Bachelardian reverie, far from being a complacent drifting of the self, is a discipline acquired through long hours of reading and writing, and through a constant practice of "surveillance de soi." Images reveal nothing to the lazy dreamer.

The meditation of the solitary dreamer: all metaphors become the equivalent of the flame-life he is contemplating.

The thinker in the world, the one who teaches, reads poets, and writes books: the task is to show us how to read the complex syntax of symbols.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Now reading:
Neumann, E. The Great Mother: Analysis of the Archetype
Punzalan Isacc, A. Filipino American Tropics
Tabios, E. Silence: The Autobiography of a Loss
Jensen, D. Listening to the Land

Josh Groban
Shania Twain
Keith Urban
Basil Valdez
Dixie Chicks
Pampango CDs

Woody Allen's Matchpoint
Before Sunrise and Before Sunset
Paris, Je'Taine

Turned off the TV.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

The Summer of Writing/The Writing of Summer
...so all blogposts are notes for the writing adventure.

Ambitious writing projects this summer:
1. Journal Article on the Kapwa Conference for Ateneo De Davao's Tambara Journal.
2. "Letter to a young student" - for a planned book, 40th high school reunion.
3. Outline revisions to my book, Coming Full Circle
4. Start on the Babaylan anthology project.

Of course, whether I can complete any of the above will be a miracle!
On a Wing and a Dare
I finally gave away copies of my two books to high school friends. These were promised two years ago but till now, I have hesitated to share my work with folks I haven't connected with, in a significant way, for decades. It will be interesting to hear what they say about the books and about the author who, once upon a time, was just a fledgling* in a senior Journalism class.

A 40year reunion is being planned (dang, we're old!). I broached the idea of producing a monograph or a book for the senior/section one of the 2008 graduating class, as in "Letters to a Young Student" after Rilke's "Letters to a Young Poet." What might we say to a 16year old who now sits at the chair we sat in 40 years ago? Think back, Leny. What will you say?

So the dare is out: write! give back!

(*a fledgling in Octavia Butler's novel is a vampire with amnesia)

Paring Bert said I should, perhaps, take up Art. I wonder what made him say so? Perhaps the table talk about the nude painting classes at Miriam's house and nude models. Why are they always women? Paring Bert asked. He said: Leny, if you ever join a nude painting class, you must insist on a male model. In his case he said he would prefer sculpture - the sensuousness of clay in three dimensions - wet, brown, and sticky.

What I love about this priest is how he deconstructs the duality of body and soul, how he embodies the sacred and is unembarrassed by the sheer delight of communing with soulful bodies.

He speaks of the need to sing lullabies to ourselves, to our children, because a baby first gets to know and feel the world through the mother's lullabies. In a remote war-torn area of Mindanao he beheld a child in a hammock, his mother singing a lullaby. The child holds an armalite.

This led Paring Bert to compose this lullaby for Mindanao. See this.
More from David Abram:
Our words must emerge directly from the depths of our ongoing reciprocity with the world (56).

Perception is participatory; it always involves at its most intimate level, the experience of active interplay, or coupling, between the perceiving body and that which it perceives. Prior to all our verbal reflections, at the level of spontaneous, sensual engagement with the world around us, we are all animists (57)

Synaesthesia: the fusion of the senses. Our primordial preconceptual experience is primarily and inherently synaesthetic (60). Yay!!

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Why I love Thomas Berry
(from Derrick Jensen's interview in Listening to the Land)

On the New Creation Story: It's a coherent telling of the story of the universe that comes to us through empirical observations, but which the scientists have not dealt with in any significant way...If scientists only understood their own data, they would have a most remarkable story...The universe is composed of subjects to be communed with, not objects to be exploited. That's why primordial peoples have a deep sense of Relatedness to all natural phenomena. (Kapwa!)

This communion of existence has a celebratory aspect; the sun shines, the flowers bloom, the birds sing, the trees blossom, the fish swim through the sea. And humans respond to the universe with a sense of awe and wonder at the majesty of it all, with entrancement. In the earlier stages of humans, this was the great liturgy.

The Ecozoic era (21st century): Principles: 1) Recognize that the universe is a communion of subjects, not a collection of objects. 2) The universe is a single sacred community. There's no way the human can be fulfilled apart from the natural world. 3) The human is derivative and the planet is primary. 4) The first law of economics has to be to preserve the integral economy of the planet. At present the whole of our economics is absurd and terribly vicious.

Confucius said: I can reduce everything to one word: Reciprocity. If you take, you must give. Everything needs to move in a circle of mutual influences, a giving and a taking. If you break that circle, everything dies.

What does this say about economics? Check out Jensen, 138...

Friday, June 22, 2007

A Small Piece of Land on Earth
...and other "abstractions"

It suddenly hit me this morning: I no longer have any connection to my father's piece of land. I signed a waiver before we returned to the US that I am giving up my share to the sibling who is still in the Philippines. It is just a technicality, supposedly, to expedite the processing of his estate. But I feel devastated in a deep way.

My father's only wish is for the land to remain in the family in perpetuity. His tenacious clinging to this desire is rooted deep in his soul, I believe, back to an ancient time when his family had vast tracts of land in Pampanga. He said that a long time ago the land around the town plaza where today the Methodist Church, a couple of banks, and a hotel stands belonged to his family. Then family squabbles squandered it all.

When Ma and Tang bought the piece of land where the house I grew up in stands now, he promised himself that he will never let go again. He wanted each of his six children to have a small piece of land of their own and he managed to acquire small plots here and there. But as we started vanishing for another continent, he sold those plots one by one to relatives in need. Two remain; on one stands the family home and the other is a vacant lot in another town that no one has visited in decades. The last time I saw this piece of land was about 15 years ago and it was overgrown with cogon grass. Someone offered a million pesos for it but Dad said 'no.' I know that he had always hoped for one of us to do something with it -- build on it or farm it, maybe. No takers.

My hope is that the land will remain in the family.
I often think of that not-so-politically-correct film, Out of Africa. I had a farm in Africa...Maybe it's the Mozart effect or the Robert Redford effect, but there is something about that film that resonates with me about losses. Land lost. Love lost. Come to think of it, all imperial adventures are about the pursuit of Land. And all colonial trauma stems from the loss of Land. Loss of natural habitat. Loss of the wild and diverse. Now all tamed into submission. And we call it "development," "progress," "improvement," "real estate property." What is real about it?

As a beneficiary of such abstractions, I want to learn how to dismantle the unearned privileges that come with the system. I don't know where to begin. I have the language but I do not have the Land.
Thanks to David Abram for this: ...indigenous tribal peoples have no such ready recourse to an immaterial realm outside earthly nature. Our strictly human heavens and hells have only recently been abstracted from the realm that abounds in its own winged intelligences and cloven-hoofed powers. For almost all oral cultures, the enveloping and sensuous earth remains the dwelling place of both the living and the dead. The "body" -whether human or otherwise - is not yet a mechanical object in such cultures, but is a magical entity, the mind's own sensuous aspect, and at death the body's decomposition into soil, worms, and dust can only signify the gradual reintegration of one's ancestors and elders into the living landscape, from which all, too, are born. (The Spell of the Sensuous, 15).

We had both masonic and christian funeral rituals at Dad's wake. I am still fascinated by religious rituals of these kinds - how can I not? It is possible to be in communion with others as we still share the same history (of christianity); their present, my past.

My present: I gathered a bundle of lavender from my garden and placed it on top of Dad's thalo-green casket. (Will write about his choice of color soon)...and whispered to him: for a lavender-scented journey, Dad, as you meet up with Ma. I couldn't say the words aloud to anyone.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Kapwa, Loob, Damdamin

How does it all come together? Death and Rebirth. Cybertechnologies. Bordercrossings. Interconnections and interdependence. Education. Life in late global capitalism in all its messiness and promise.

At this weekend's conference, the abstract concepts of Kapwa, Loob, Damdamin were elucidated as key concepts that offer much to multicultural education in the US. The conference was structured to simulate lived experience of Kapwa on a limited scale: the coming together of process, Filipino and Filipino American curriculum content and the permission to include all kinds of unplanned-for elements (babies running around, for example). You and I are One. In the world of Kapwa, there is no Other.

On the personal level, it was difficult for me to leave the conference preparations and return to the Philippines to bury my father. How could I be in more than two places at the same time - emotionally and psychically? How to deal with the surprises that bring us joy ...and the supression of joy as I succumb to the discipline of socialized expectations around death.

At my father's eulogy, I said that the life and work of (christian and public) service in his local community is a legacy he has passed on to me. Except now this work has gone far beyond Pampanga and expanded deep into the cultural and educational corners of the US as far as it touches on all things Filipino. . .and American.

The seeds of the conference were planted over a decade ago when, through the process of decolonization, I realized that, as a Filipino, I have gifts to share with this dominating culture (white supremacist capitalist patriarchy (WSCP), as bell hooks puts it). The psychic and epistemic movement through the phases of decolonization took many years. The longing to be free of the absolutism of ideologies and the desire for more human, non-oppositional, wholistic responses could not be rushed into fruition. This is a harvest year.

Many of the conference participants expressed their appreciation for the vision of this conference: centering Filipino and Filipino American indigenous concepts and values.

And yet having just returned from the Philippines, I became aware again of the invisibility of anything indigenous in the Philippines (except in its tokenized, exotic forms). Fr. Alejo attests that indigenous peoples and their concerns are marginalized in the educational arena and in the culture at large. And so I grapple with the incongruency and contradiction of it all. Here we are privileging the indigenous. . . far away from the Place of the indigenous (but we all live on the same planet, no?).

Aside: (At one point, I told a friend that if I were to become the most powerful person in the Philippines, the first thing I'd do is to tear down all the billboards with white and mestizo faces, replace them with the beautiful kayumanggi face; I would create public discourse about the ubiquity of whitening creams and question the symbolic meaning of it all).

Back in the US, I reach for Derrick Jensen again. His mantra: what do you love? where do you live? where is your landbase and how do you protect it? returns me to the meaning of Kapwa and Loob. Indigenous cultures and the concepts we borrow from them, after all, are primarily Land-based. It is our relationship with the Land that connects everything intimately.

Modernity has severed these connections. Mary Elizabeth Hobgood calls for the dismantling of WSCP privileges and asks me to consider that Kapwa and Loob can be translated as "ethical eroticism." "An ethical eroticism would support our need, as social beings, to connect sensually with ourselves, with the natural world, with human work,, and with the many others with whom we share passionate interdependence. . .would respect the gifts that the body can give to the spirit. . .would support our learning about, experimenting with, and developing a symbolic and physical language about our bodies as sources of communication, nurturant interaction, and passionate expression.

"As beings who emerged from the amniotic waters of the sea, we need visceral experience of water, earth, air, sky, forest, mountains, and other earth creatures for emotional balance and for a sense of basic well being.

"An ethical eroticism would challenge the work ethic and the capitalist workplace. Most bodies at work are divorced from their erotic needs and become appendages of machines. Human instruments of profit making must be numbed to their desire for communion with others in order to sustain nonsensuous, nongratifying, isolating labor." (135-136)

And so on. . .

On the ground, this body wants to do a wild dance in celebration of ethical eroticism but the mind reins it all in and threatens me (can you really afford to live outside the capitalist bubble?). I realize this work of liberation could take the rest of my lifetime. My father struggled to the very end to heal this primal wound. I long to be healed so I can live the rest of my life with Eros, with my Kapwa and the beauty of our Loob.

Gisingin ang damdamin.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Goodbye, Dad...

I realize I've been trying to distract myself so
I wouldn't have to say goodbye to you... so
I wouldn't shed tears... so
I wouldn't die inside...

So I wouldn't have to regret
That you didn't die in my arms,
That I wasn't able to tell you
How much I will miss you

The conference distracted me from the work of mourning. The family reunion reassured me. The love of a friend comforted me. But I knew it wouldn't take long and you would call me back to face this empty space. Speak to me.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

I will be posting on the other blog about the Kapwa conference. More to follow.

Letting go...

I sent over a hundred books from my library with Fr. Alejo yesterday. The books will find a home at the Mindanawon Initiatives for Cultural Dialogue at Ateneo de Davao. I told him about my ambivalence about sending these mostly Eurocentric and US-centered texts to the Philippines but he reassured me that there will be proper critical translation as they are used.

These books are my children...I waited to let them go until I found a loving home for them. I didn't want to donate them to one of the many "books for the barrios"-like projects that dumps books in classrooms beneath the suspicion of cultural imperialism. I wanted to make sure my children are wanted...and Fr. Alejo wants them.

In our discussion about the state of education in the Philippines and as part of his input at the Kapwa conference, he pointed out that education in the Philippines, as an instrument of upward class mobility, contributes to the widening divide between the educated elite and the less-educated masses. He laments the lack of critical thinking (education for critical consciousness) among those who have the power to create and implement an enlightened educational policy.

Public schools in the Philippines languish and fail to adequately educate students due to the lack of resources -- not enough classrooms, chalk, textbooks, and good teachers. Add on top of this the renewed mandate to restore English as the medium of instruction because "Filipinos no longer speak English as well as they used to."

As a Filipino poet, Fr Alejo still believes in the importance of multilingualism among Filipinos. It is not enough to privilege English just because it is perceived as the tool for upward mobility in the global marketplace. I passed on my books on linguistic imperialism and bilingual education to him, hoping that readers would understand the scientific basis of how to maintain bilingual competency and the privileging of the Filipino language as being equally capable as English in expressing abstract concepts, philosophies, and other complex thoughts.

My thoughts often turn to what it might be like to be a child in a fifth grade classroom today. What is the curriculum like? What language will I be thinking in? What future vision will my young mind be conditioned by? Perhaps the seeds of desire to become a Japayuki, or a caregiver abroad? To become a call center worker? Or a teacher or a nurse abroad? To be a movie star perhaps?

Such commodification of educational aspirations begs for critique. What is the place of patriotism here? Love of country? Love of cultural heritage?

Once, while in Davao, a high school History teacher asked the class which colonizer they liked the best: Spain, US, or Japan? Aarrgghhh! And over at the elementary school library students were checking out Disney books. When we asked the librarian whether the children also get to borrow Filipino books, she said that the Disney books are ubiquituous - a non-answer really. No wonder, Fr Alejo thinks that the Philippines can learn a lot from the multicultural education movement in the U.S.

Maybe my children will be useful towards that end...in that one remote corner of Davao.

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