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Unsettling Missions

I forget how our grade school poem went, but each stanza ended with El Cain mo Real. The page showed the picture of a mission bell by the roadside. I really had no idea what El Camino Real meant, and it wasn't until I visited Mission Santa Barbara that I had an inkling of what this famous route was all about.

The paintings on the church ceilings and walls had an endearing ethnic flavor. The garden and the cemetery beside the church with the enormous Australian Bay tree were charming. I read the names and dates on the fading tombstones. I believe Old Gabriel, a Native American who lived to be over a hundred years old, is buried there.

When my husband and I lived in San Francisco, I used to hear Mass at Mission Dolores, which is also very charming. Its crammed cemetery with the mixture of Spanish, Irish, and other names on the markers fascinated me. I often wondered about the numerous infants buried there. There were members of families who died in the same year and I imagined that they perished from the plague or some other communicable disease-typhoid, spinal meningitis-because medical knowledge was limited then.

Two Strangers

It was April 1966 in the seaside City of Cebu. We were home from our Manila colleges and universities. For almost three months, we would party, swim, go to movies, and hang out at Eddie's Log Cabin.

That a war was going on just 500 miles away was incomprehensible to us. Intellectually, we knew. We had seen photographs of Buddhist monks burning in fierce self-immolation. We had read of Diem, napalm, deforestation, bombing raids, and body counts.

The reality of that war brushed us in the form of the hyperkinetic U.S. Air Base at nearby Mactan. We watched tall walls rise and we speculated that the Americans were building a missile site. When parts of the wall were dismantled we saw a runway, tower, camouflaged planes, and barracks. Almost overnight, shanties, claiming to be bars and massage parlors, mushroomed. American soldiers roamed our city. World War II lingo came back to life. Hey Joe, wanna buy watch. Hey Joe, wanna girl. Wanna virgin.

We avoided them, these short-haired men. They descended upon the city with painted, mini-skirted girls clinging tightly to their arms. We good girls learned to stay away from the soldiers.

Someday I’ll Visit

Someday I'll go to Valparaiso University. Take a close look at its buildings, the trees around the campus. Imagine how the place looked 60 years ago when my father walked its paths to engineering classes. A young man, a foreigner in this country, where I now find myself.

In the summers-so family legend goes-he picked fruit to earn money. I can picture him up a ladder plucking oranges and apples from heavily laden trees. A carefree vagabond with a purpose: to finish his studies and go back home. I never did go back home.

He died when I was nine. A month shy often, actually. One never forgets things like that. After his death, there were times when I had difficulty picturing him in my mind. This disturbed me, and I got his photo. I etched in my memory his oval face, gold-rimmed glasses, balding head, his expression of tranquil joy. An old man, but the only father I knew and loved.

That Enigma: Imelda Marcos

I had planned on writing a humorous piece about Imelda's excesses-the 500 identical black brassieres, 3000 pairs of shoes, gallons of First Lady French perfume, multi-million-dollar jewelry, and so on. But as I began scribbling, the comedy of the situation didn't linger. It was the tragedy that did. I kept thinking of the children of Negros eating their one free meal a day to keep from dying. I imagined the child prostitutes walking the streets of Ermita, and the elderly abandoned in the back alleys of Manila. And I no longer found Imelda's rapacity amusing.

I do not know Imelda personally. I have never met her although I had seen enough of heron television to know how utterly charming she can be. I knew Imelda through her manipulations of other people's lives, through media reports, and through stories and jokes about her. It is interesting how much one can learn about a person this way.

Growing up in Cebu, I knew Imelda's niece, M., my classmate at St. Theresa's grade school. She was tall, pretty, and shy; years later, Imelda would coax M. into her prequisite beauty queen title and a stint in Spain. When I attended Maryknoll College in Quezon City, I learned that M. was engaged to a banker's son. I met her fiance shortly before their wedding and he did not strike me as one engaged. Imelda, I heard, had arranged this marriage. She had invited the banker's son to the presidential yacht, had wined and dined him for her favorite niece. M. and this man got married but the marriage did not last. Last time I heard, M. was running a jewelry store in Makati.

The Savage Legacy

Growing up in the Philippines I developed a negative attitude toward American Indians, more aptly called Native Americans. I blame the American media for this, particularly the Hollywood films that l watched. The cowboy and Indian movies depicted Native Americans as fearsome savages, enemies of the peace-loving pioneers who braved the prairies and Rockies in covered wagons. When Indians appeared on the horizon, yelping away, their bows and arrows and hatchets in hand, I cringed. When the pioneers shot the Indians one by one, I cheered, glad that the scalp- hungry enemies were being destroyed.

It was years later, after meeting Native Americans and seeing their bleak reservations, when I thought about their situation. I realized that the Hollywood movies were terribly incorrect. The victims were really the Native Americans, not the pioneers. Native Americans have been robbed of their land and sentenced to a slow genocide.

I first saw Native Americans in Santa Fe, New Mexico, while shopping for torquoise and silver jewelry in a tourist trap. I noticed that the Navajo vendors, though stockier in build, had brown skin, dark straight hair, and facial features like Filipinos. The Navajos had cast puzzled glances at me as if to ask: Why are you buying this junk?



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