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.

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