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Sad Notes From Home

Diligently I keep track of Philippine news. Since Ninoy Aquino's assassination that August day in 1983, the situation back home has gotten worse. I read the papers and magazines. I tune in to television and radio reports. I attend taib by Diokno, Kalaw, and other visiting Filipinos. I exchange views about the Philippines with other Filipinos in Los Angeles. The picture I glean is a sad one.

Letters from home confirm my conclusion.

In her letter my mother says: Now times have changed greatly. Everything is hard. I avoid writing as I hate to let you know how hard life has become in the Philippines.

Money has gone down in value and things, especially food, have become very expensive, at times exorbitant.

In her Christmas card, my aunt writes: Life here has gotten very depressing. There are bread lines, sugar lines, rice lines. What makes me so mad is that these shortages are caused by greed. There is no sugar in the market but sugar is rotting in the warehouses. Rice is P4.50 a kilo. The average person brings home-if he is lucky to be employed-P16 a day. Pork per kilo is P50 and chicken is P30. School enrollment has dropped 45 percent in Manila.

On Roots And Racism

You Filipinos have no culture, someone told Dr. Herminia Meñeez.

When she told us about this, we members of the Philippine Folk Epic Group burst out laughing. Our group is affiliated with UCLAs Folklore Department and one of our activities includes studying Philippine folk epic songs that date back to as early as the 9th or 11th century. No culture, no culture? we repeated incredulously. Then Jocelyn another member, related that an American told her the only thing we Filipinos can be proud of was the February Revolution.

Shaking our heads, we became somber. Our talk turned to the issue of prejudice. Another member said that while prejudice does exist against Filipinos, she believes this is the prejudiced person's problem. She ignores the barbed comments, plunges ahead, knowing that she is better traveled and better off than a lot of Americans.

Her comments made me realize that her strong sense of self- worth came from having grown up in the Philippines. But, I wondered, what about second-generation Filipino Americans? They must have a difficult time being exposed to racist comments and innuendoes from the time they are infants.

The Lost Art Of Haggling

(This essay was published in the Los Angeles Herald Examiner, on 18 February 1984. It is included in An Anthology of Philippine Writing in America, published by the Philippine American Press Club of Los Angeles in 1989.)

Late in the week! do my shopping. I drive to the nearest supermarket, which happens to be Lucky's. For almost an hour I weave up and down the aisles, filling my cart with produce, cans, packages, meats, and household necessities. I stand in line and, while waiting, I pick up People magazine and the National Enquirer to see how Princess Di and Jackie 0 are doing. As the line eases forward, I start plopping my items on the revolving counter. How-are-you-today? the checker says automatically as she rings my items. I whip out my checkbook and stand poised until it's time to write the atrocious amount. Then I push the cart to the car, go home and unload all that stuff. Another weekly shopping done.

The ritual is boring and cannot compete with how my mother shops in the Philippines. Although American-style supermarkets are getting popular, she prefers buying from individual vendors. She loves to shop and along with that loves to haggle. Aside from a genuine desire to strike a good bargain, my mother enjoys the social interaction between seller and buyer. It goes like this.

The Minority Writers Dilemma

My cousin from Manila visited recently. Over a bottle of wine, we talked about the well-known writers in the Philippines. Nick Joaquin, she said, is still up there. Aren't there younger writers? I asked. The post-war generation of Filipinos, I said, ought to be more adept with the English language. Well, she replied, they write like Virginia Wolf.

Her comment stuck in my head because I have been struggling with themes and topics that I think are true to my identity as a Filipino in America.

In real life, when I converse with Filipinos, I slip either into Tagalog, Cebuano, or Taglish. When I write, I tend to use the English I learned at school or picked up from the American/European books and magazines that I have read. From grade school on, I read Western literature from Dick and Jane to works by Homer, Huxley, Cather, Emerson, and others. We just didn't get a lot of Filipino-written material when I was growing up. I assume that this was due to the fact that the Philippines was a Spanish colony and later a U.S. possession before gaining independence. Because of this Western orientation, my instinct is to use Dick-and-Jane themes. My heroes, the situations I create, and the dialogue I use tend to have a Western flavor.

Fairy Tale Turned Sour

Since Ninoy Aquino's assassination in Philippine news leaves me numb. The Agrava Board, the Sandiganbayan, the worsening economy and political situation are all very depressing. Cold fear grips my bones when I read about the Philippines. Realization hits me that the Philippines I knew and the Philippines that is, are two different worlds. I feel helpless, wondering what the future of the Philippines will be.

Nonetheless, news about home intrigues me, captivates me, and last October, following Senator Laxalt's visit to the Philippines, I sat rooted in front of the television set to watch Nightline, 60 Minutes, and the MacNeil/Lehrer News Hour.

From among all the images I saw on those television reports, what stands out is the picture of the almost-naked body of a Filipino washed ashore. The dead man, as Ed Bradley of 60Minutes said, was a salvaging victim. The next scene was a makeshift morgue with other dead men, also victims of political violence.

 

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