Ginto V

“At the end of the day, it isn’t where I came from. Maybe home is somewhere I’m going and never have been before.”
― Warsan Shire

Balikbayan. It’s the word that lives in every Filipino’s heart regardless of who they are, where they are from, or the circumstances they are in. It’s the word that lives and breathes in our actions, in our goals, in our thoughts, and in our words. It calls to us every single day. Our hearts beat to the mindless chaos of the city streets of Manila, to every nook and cranny of our overcrowded urban landscapes and to our luscious beaches, mountains, and forests, to the tireless efforts of our kapwa at home and overseas, and to our continued resilience and optimism. Home is what brought us through our darkest days of our history, our daily hardships, and our voyages overseas. It is home we look for and at one point in time, everyone is called to back home. But sometimes we forget…we forget about our homes and preoccupy ourselves with materialism, beauty, competition, and wealth. Our forgetfulness has led us to the destruction of our forests and our wildlife. Our forgetfulness has led us to the corruption of our mindsets. Our forgetfulness has led us to silence the voices of the poor and has led us to glorify the rich. Our forgetfulness has led us to mask the beautiful colour of our brown skins with white. Our forgetfulness has led us to heed to the needs of the foreigners and not to the needs of our people. Our forgetfulness has led us to occupation of international businesses and ventures in the name of globalization. And it is in our forgetfulness that we let the beauties of home become further deduced to a mirror image of America—an image slowly destroying the fruits and wonders of our nation.

But it is in the binhi of change that Diyan, Mumbaki Lagitan, Mia, Hollie, Victoria Marie, and the folks at Kapisanan planted in my heart that have awaken my Filipino pride, my Filipino resilience, and my pamati. Before our lands, our minds, and our ways of life were colonized, we had a plethora of resources, traditions, cultures, and stories. And though our lives and our lands have been drastically altered, the voices of our ancestors continue to thrive in our kapwa dedicated to reviving our colourful past and using it as a shield from the destruction of our culture. Though I know we cannot dream of the past that once was, we can use it to move forward. We need to heed to the call of our people and work together to change our futures. A future that our ancestors would have been proud of and a future that our great-great-grandchildren will be able to see without living in fear and in disgust of violence, poverty, and social justices that dictate our world today.

We are at a stale mate with religion and politics. Our conflicts over beliefs have blinded us and have left us to forget who we are and why we are here. But in order to move forward, we must learn how to truly listen without saying a word, love without limitations, and give without looking for anything in return. We need to find peace in our hearts and not in others. It’s not going to be easy and I know it hasn’t been any easier journey for me. There are times when I contradict myself, when I feel like giving up, because I feel like it’s already too late. Sometimes, I feel at a loss for words and angry. But those are the first stages of grief—astonishment, anger—and it is in these emotions where we find healing and power. We have lost a lot of our culture, but in a clever way, our people have become resilient to change through our traditions, our superstitions, our love for music and dance, our food, and our happiness.

Nostalgia is a romantic word for looking back at a past and yearning to be a part of it. The problem with nostalgia is that we become so invested in the past, reviving things from our past, but we forget that we are living in the now. And in our current state of events, issues, are still alive and we cannot look to our television and movie reboots to help us reconcile our differences. Because you see, when we talk of the past, we ultimately recognize how those things made us feel. Subconsciously, I feel like everybody is looking for a way to feel like a child again—a time that was simpler, where we felt free. And it’s this childlike yearning of freedom that we are searching for—when we didn’t have to worry, when we trusted and loved everyone, when we saw the world through the eyes of imagination and wonder, and when social stratification did not blind us. But with age comes power and responsibility and we must stand up for what we believe in and use it to preserve what is still left of our past for our futures.

Ginto is the word I chose for my blog series, because it was a word that I couldn’t translate and that I should have known about. Ginto seeds is also the name of Diyan’s website. It was a word that was always around, but I never knew what it meant. Translated into English, it means “gold”—probably the most powerful of the precious metals—one that causes wars, poverty, competition, and greed. But in the end, despite its beauty, its lustre, and its appeal, gold does not belong to us. As humans, we’ve created a systematic way of putting value on everything we see, but if we put the worth on ourselves things would be different. Our self-worth is determined by how we act towards ourselves, others, and towards nature. If we value ourselves by our actions and by our interactions, value would be worth something different. The ginto we are looking for has been inside us the whole time—our talents, our passions, and our agency—is the gold that we must bring to others and to change the world for the better. And we must help others find the ginto that lives within. And that’s why, my dear reader, my kapwa, I encourage you to look inside of you—open your ears, your hearts, your minds to the call of our ancestors and maybe, just maybe—we will find the ginto that lives within us and so that, together, we will all find our way home.

Salamat,

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Ginto Part IV

“We cannot always build a future for our youth, but we can always build our youth for the future.”  ~Franklin D. Roosevelt

The lady from Fiji, Diyan, Mumbaki Lagitan–different people, different walks of life, but I learned something important. Love your people. Look for them, talk to them, and love them hard. There is still so much more to do for the Filipino community, but we need to stand in solidarity with each other in order to move forward and to create change. It is through our people, our indigenous people, and our Filipino values that will allow us to build a stronger foundation for our nation to stand on.

Gossip, competition, animosity, greed, and lots of friction between its members, are some of the things that I’ve witness come alive in Filipino communities. It was what started my bitterness and my shame in our kapwa. We don’t do enough to bring us together. And I failed in this too, as I didn’t do anything. I’ve only become a mere bystander as opposed as an advocate for solidarity. I’ve looked into some of the Filipino organizations and many of them are headed by older Filipino members of the community who think that galas, golf tournaments, and showcasing wealth and beauty through pageants are the best way to solidify our community. But the beauty of the Filipinos lies in our values of kapamilya, katapatan, positibong pananaw, pananampalataya, katatagan, and lakas ng loob. Old school Filipino organizations exist as a platform to show who is better than whom through beauty and wealth.

But there’s hope. I’ve come to realize that instead of becoming frustrated and feeling stuck, I have to look at the good in everything. I’ve realized that there is hope to topple this cycle of nepotism, egotism, and greed in the Filipino community. And you don’t have to look far to find the answer.

Youth. As cliché as it sounds, the youth are our future to the Filipino diaspora. We need to teach and to apply the true values of our kapwa and we need to act as role models. If we continue to teach that beauty, whiteness, pagibig, competition, and showbiz are the only ways to find happiness, we will only find ourselves in the same position. We cannot rely on celeb-turned-politicians or famous actors and actresses showcasing westernized lifestyles to fight poverty, malnourishment, social inequality, drug trade, human trafficking, and so much more social injustices. Sometimes we forget that children and youth emulate what they constantly watch. If their lives are all about love stories and showbiz–that will continue to be the mindset for our future.

But I’ve seen a change…

If it’s something that I’ve learned when I was at the Kultura Festival, it is the fact that Filipino youth are rediscovering and reclaiming what was taken by the colonization periods of the Philippines…and they’re thriving. I’ve never seen so many people–just like me–flaunting their dark black hair and our beautiful brown skins. I felt like I belonged and that I didn’t have to hide. This connectedness was felt through the food, the people, the music, the dancing, the cheering, and the comradery. I’ve never been to anything like it, even though I have been to plenty. It’s just the feeling was different–I felt like it was an authentic and genuine experience. I witnessed young people, my age or possibly younger/older, using their talents, their passions to help our Filipino community evolve through the arts and giving the youth an opportunity to find role models in the community, as opposed to their television screens.

And maybe that’s the answer. The Arts. Whether it’s the fusion through the culinary arts, music, dance, visual art, or theater, I saw how we can learn to adapt. There are people out there that want to keep our kultura alive, but we also need to do our part to recognize that we need to continually participate and support each other.

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Theater. At the Carlos Bulosan Theater booth, we had met Mia and Holi, two theater management students from the Philippines. Upon meeting, we briefly talked about who Carlos Bulosan was and the role he played in the Filipino diaspora as a poet and writer. And it is his name that they used for theater to showcase various works by contemporary Filipino playwrights. And it is in his struggles and in his activism that we find hope in the theater community, that is much overlooked by the Filipino communities. But it is here we find young Filipinos trying to reconcile their identities with this binary of Filipino-Canadian and trying to put their experiences onstage for people to witness. And it is in Mia and Holi’s conversation with us that I realized that there are people trying to make things work, but we are not doing enough to spread the word.

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The Bruha of all Bruhas. When I first saw that shirt on someone, I chuckled, because bruha has always had a negative connotation in my life. It was a form of criticism on how people looked. And to see it on someone, made me laugh, because I thought it was a humorous way of resisting the word. Victoria Marie is the mastermind behind the Bruha clothing line and when asked about her choice of the word bruha she said, “My mom used to call me bruha, because of my hair in the mornings And when I researched the word, it turns out it was the word (meaning witch) that the Spanish used to call women who were strong, resistant, and independent.” And it is this word that inspired Victoria Marie to create a clothing line to change the meaning of this word and turn it into something empowering–especially for Filipino women.

Creativity, independence, adaptability, resistance, and resiliency are the words to describe Kultura Fest Toronto. And it is all thanks to Kapisanan for helping me see that these are the words that embody the Filipino community. They are doing so much to empower Filipino youth through the arts. And they are helping to guide young people into a future where the Filipino culture will remain to astound people in its rich history and in its traditions. And this is what we need to do, we need to invest in our young people. We need to show them that there is more to what the media shows us. We need to show our youth that we are proud of who we are and our kapwa. And we need to support these community organizations to not just build a future for our youth, but to allow our youth rediscover what it means to be Filipino. There has been so much taken away from us and we are only starting to finding our voices in the global community. And these voices will only fade away if they do not find a platform to stand on. So, let us continue to find ways for the Filipino in us to thrive and to support the people who have made this their life’s work.

 

Salamat, 

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Want to check out the organizations or people mentioned in this post? Check out the links below.

Carlos Bulosan Theatre
The XX Collection (Bruha by VM)
Kapisanan

Ginto Part III

“The wound is the place where the Light enters you.”
― Jalaluddin Rumi

Fate is a funny thing, isn’t it? Out of all the places that you could be, all the things you could do, or all the people that you could meet–it decides to just put you where all the pieces of the puzzle just click. And that click, that moment, when you realize you are in the right place, at the right time, and with the right people, you suddenly feel as if the whole world is at your fingertips. It’s that moment of revelation that people are after, that people are secretly yearning for.

Behind all the hype of technology and its advances, the chase of self-validation on social media, the seemingly unattainable expectations of society, there’s a side in all of us that just wants to search for the answers that cannot be found in a mere Google Search. But without human interaction, without asking questions, without avoiding the awkwardness that comes with socializing–we’re left with the answers that people have already worked hard to answer. What about our own questions? What about our own curiosity? How can we satisfy those questions that linger in our minds?

Have you ever realized that the word quest is in the word question? Could that possibly be a hint into finding the answer? So, in order to find the answers to our questions, we must go on a quest to find it? I’m certain that we do not need to go on a formal “quest” to search for these answers, but we do need to look and not just online, but in the form of people. It’s the people that we meet that lead us to where we need to be and it’s their stories that transform, that guide, and that lead us in our own little journeys.

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I want you to take a look at this photo above. What do you see? A man in blue who’s wearing a traditional headband and scarf? A quote from St. Ignatius of Loyola? I’ll tell you what I see…I see fate in the works, but at that time, I just didn’t know it yet. I honestly, just took it. I took it not thinking what would ensue, who I would I meet, the answers that I would find. And it’s that funny thing called fate–tadhana, in Tagalog–that has led me to this moment. The quote on the picture, that man, are all now a part of my own “quest”, because it is this same man and his story that has led me to start looking for answers in our country’s forgotten history and to look at the world in a completely different way.

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It was Diyan who had introduced him to us. His name is Mamerto Tingdongan. His Ifugao name is “Lagitan”. He’s a mumbaki, a spiritual leader, an elder if you will. What was he doing in Toronto? What was he holding? What questions should we ask? Will we be learning about something about our history? These were the questions running through my head, mind you, I was still trying to process the fact that the Philippines had rich origins and that the indigenous community was finding ways to break through the mainstream barriers. And it is in his story, where we find the forgotten past of our people.

He took us back to the year 1904. The year of the St. Louis Fair, yes the famous fair which commemorated the centennial of the 1803 Louisiana Purchase and which July Garland famously sang about in the musical Meet Me In St. Louis. But behind the grandiose displays of technological progress and architecture, a wound, silently inflicted, laid bare for all the people to see.

18 Tinguians, 30, Bagobobs, 70 Bontoc Igorots, 20 Suyoc Igorots, 38 Negritos and Mangyans, 79 Visayans, and 80 Moros–these were the people who were part of an exhibit purportedly depicting the life in the Philippines, alongside the Apaches. In the name of evolutionary progress, our native kapwa, our people, were put on display to be treated like animals, to put a face to the word “primitive”, and were forced to hunt and eat dogs…all in the name of progress.  It was a way for the Americans to bring a tangible souvenir of their victory over the freshly-liberated Filipino people and bring it back to American soil. The “human zoo” was a trend started about by the Europeans to parade the colonies they’ve successfully created and all its inhabitants. It was a way for people to unmask the unknown, while explicitly manifesting “evolutionary progress”. And it is not just Filipinos that they would capture, there were many more tribal groups captured by hunters, and many of them facing the same fate–a spectacle of the human zoo. So, what happened when the spectacle was over? Most of them, according to Mumbaki Lagitan, went home, they disassociated themselves from their tribes, and were forced to heal on their own, while our country celebrated and embraced the American lifestyle.

Anger. How can you not get angry? How can you not feel frustrated and feel the need to change in how our people think? Our celebrities, our role models, and even we, as a nation embrace the effects of colonialism and we have even created a hierarchy of whiteness. The whiter you act, the whiter your skin is, the whiter your lifestyle, the better–anything that is not white, is not seen as progressive. And it is in this act of assimilation where we create further divisions in our country–the us vs. them mentality. We see the indigenous people as a people of our past and just like the spectators of the St. Louis Fair, we look at them as an unevolved race of people, not willing to change with the times. And it is in this mindset that continues to afflict our people, therefore deterring us from advancing and becoming a progressive nation.

Healing. Despite all the pain and all the humiliation inflicted upon his people–our people, Mumbaki Lagitan has found a way to resolve, to acknowledge, to heal the wounds of the past. Hatred, anger, prejudice, segregation–the words that plague our every day world, in which violence is often the consequence, but for Mumbaki Lagitan, violence is not the answer. His newest project is that of the Ifugao Healing Hut–a hut he is building traditionally without the use of nails. To him, this hut, which is being built at his Ohio home, on American soil, is symbolic of not only the past, but also the future of our nation and its diaspora. It reveals to us that in solidarity and in reconciliation, we will find hope for the future. It will also raise awareness of the past social injustices of our people and it will allow us to heal, to reflect, and to grow–without creating hostility towards one another, without having to constitute further divisions amongst each other, and most importantly, without creating more pain, more anguish found in the act of brutality and violence that so often becomes a deterrent for progress. It is where we find peace.

Peace. Do you see this? he asked, holding up a bawwot (a spinning wooden top). Do you know what this is? This represents our childhood innocence. It is in this childhood innocence where we can see the world in a different way through the act of play. If we look at the world through the eyes of a child, it is where we find peace. We must find peace within ourselves, because when we are at peace, no one will bother us–and it will create this ripple effect of change in others.

The Ripple Effect. Anger, healing, and peace–things that you wouldn’t find at a cultural festival, but it is in the story and in the wisdom of Mumbaki Lagitan that we find hope in the future of the Philippines. I created this blog in hopes of showcasing the hardships, the victories, the daily lives of the Filipino people, but I also created it in hopes of finding my own identity and in finding more about our shared heritage. I am here forever questioning and forever seeking for answers that will help guide me and to further shape my identity. But like I said, the word Filipino, is evolving every day. And in this post, we kind of get an abrupt, a raw portrayal of our lost history. I know that it will create the same feelings of anger, disgust, and contempt in you, but I want you to remember that it’s completely normal to feel like this. However, in acknowledging our past and the fact that you are feeling these said emotions, you are honouring and accepting the trials and tribulations faced by our kapwa. And you must use this knowledge and these feelings to your advantage and to create change. Instead of acting in violence, I encourage you to read more–to research, to question, to reflect–and to use your talents to reclaim what has been forgotten. It may be re-building a traditional hut or it may be writing a blog, but find something you are passionate for and use your abilities to make a change.

Mumbaki Lagitan’s message and his story reminds us that there are still people out there, seeking  for some sort of reconciliation. We are a young nation, and just like many of its inhabitants, we are trying to find an identity for ourselves and looking to others to help us shape it. We are that awkward teenager trying to fit in a well-established clique. But if it is one thing I have learned from Mumbaki Lagitan, that the answer is within ourselves and within our kapwa. Like his healing hut project, we must use what we have, without the nails, to help us rebuild a nation that was once rich in culture and in history and to help us reconnect to the people we forced ourselves to see as the “other”. I want you to know that beyond our recycled rhetoric of corruption, violence, poverty, and social inequality, there are people willing to change our nation for the better. Our indigenous people are our answers to the past and also our answers to our future, as we move forward. And once we reconcile our identities, once we find peace within ourselves, within our nation, we will create a ripple effect of change–that will hopefully spread and metaphorically speaking, set the world on fire. 

Salamat, 

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P.S. To see the story of Mumbaki Lagitan’s project, please visit The Ifugao Hut Healing Project . If you would like to see more of his work, please visit Tindongan Wood Sculptures.

Ginto Part II

“To be Filipino is to feel a deep connectedness to one’s fellow being, to the Creator, to the country, to one’s self, and to everything else outside of the self. To be Filipino is to feel connected to the country’s history–past, present, and future. This connectedness remains even when the Filipino leaves the Philippines.” – Leny Mendoza Strobel, Coming Full Circle

Indigenous. A word I often reference to the First Nations people of North America–their traumatic past, their unsettled and tragic present, and their uncertain future. After celebrating Canada’s 150th birthday, the forgotten echoes of the indigenous past are once again silenced, their reputation tarnished by stereotypes of drunkenness, instability, and laziness–and yet, despite it all, their people’s voices continue to thrive, to flourish, and to remain optimistic. The indigenous people of Canada are all trying to find a voice, to pick up the pieces of their past, and trying to reconcile it with their present state. They are still mourning what has been lost, and yet they are still hopeful that they could re-build what was brought down many years ago. This is not just the reality faced by the indigenous people of Canada, but by many whose lives, whose cultures, whose futures, whose identities were at the discretion of their colonizers.

Blood Memory. A word that the indigenous use to reference to something–whether it be a memory, a yearning, an attraction, an acknowledgement–to our past, to our ancestry. It is a word that my friend learned for an Anishanaabe elder. A word that resonated with me. After learning what it had meant, it all just made sense. No matter where you are in the world or who you have become–you feel this strong connection to the past and to your ancestors without really knowing it. It’s that feeling that your ideas, your traditions, your knowledge, your identity are grounded in something far beyond who we are, beyond our genetics. In a sense, this feeling of this connectedness are the seeds that our ancestors have sowed in us–the future generation–a way for us to bring the past into our present and to bring their legacy forward. And it is in these concepts of blood memory and the indigenous that I begin my story…

I first started this series with the lady from Fiji–the one who had held her grandparents accountable for her pride in her Fijian roots. And you will see that there’s a reason to this madness that I have created for myself and possibly for you–the reader. There was a jealousy that I had felt when I visited Hawaii–the Polynesian Cultural Center, in particular–because there was a sense of pride in the past traditions and in the culture of the Polynesian people. They all seem like they were deeply rooted in their cultures and they were not afraid to show it. It was something that I wanted to be a part of and yet, I couldn’t because I didn’t know where to start or where to go. And so, it inspired me to begin looking for ways to participate in my culture…

Pamati. A Visayan word for the “call of our ancestors”. A word that is also inscribed in a bracelet that I bought two weeks ago. This word opened a Pandora’s box of knowledge that I would have never known if it weren’t for a festival I went to. You would never think that you would find an answer to your lineage at a festival, but I certainly did. The Kultura Festival celebrated Filipino culture through modern music, food, art, dance, and drama. It was thanks to my friend and my sister, who let me tag along and who led me to find the stories–the stories that I’ve been patiently waiting for. And lo and behold, I had found what I was looking for, but not exactly what I had expected.

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Queue in Diyan. She was the catalyst to all of this–whether she knew it or not! And if it were not for her, I would not be here writing this blog series. She, along with Maravel, are part of the Kollective Binhi, a group of Los Angeles artists creating indigenous art.  And it is through their work–their art– that showcase our indigenous roots. It is through their collection of pins, bracelets, necklaces, hats, and pipes all inscribed in baybayin (the original script of the Philippines), that offer us a glimpse of the Philippines’ colourful origins. Each of their wooden accessories are created using solar pyrography where Diyan uses a crystal ball to catch the sun’s light to engrave the words into the wood. Each pin/necklace had a significant meaning and I don’t know if it was by chance or perhaps fate that led me to pick pamati. And it was at this serendipitous meeting where I realized that I was finally on the right path.

I hate to admit that I didn’t know what baybayin was before I had met Diyan. I felt ashamed that my sudden resurgence of Filipino pride didn’t acknowledge this part of history that I was confronted with. There is so much more to the Philippines than I had ever imagined. In my ignorance and in my own mindset, I often referenced the beginning of Filipino history with Magellan, because it was all I knew and it was because it was where all the stories had stopped.

Indigenous was never a word that I was be able to relate to. And ironically, it is the word that I find my answers. In my search for my family history, I would frequently obsess over how much Spanish ancestry I had, while I would completely discard my Filipino ancestry. I always thought that Filipino was Filipino. It was something ordinary, but it was the Spanish running in my blood that made me think that we stood out somehow, that made me feel special. And as I shamefully admit to you these thoughts I once had, I’ve come to realize that there is much more to the word Filipino–it is not just a word to identify where you’re from or who you belong to, but also a word to help you remember, to help you reflect, to help you embrace, and to be proud of all that has happened to our people. It is a word that is continuously evolving into something different every day and it is a word that I am proud to call myself–after all these years running away from it.

And it is kabayans like Diyan and Maravel–the Kollective Binhi–that guide people like us to reclaim the word Filipino, to revisit our roots, and to plant the binhi (the seed) of change. Salamat for answering all of our questions and passing on this seed of change to us to help rediscover the past that is oftentimes lost and forgotten. Salamat for inspiring us to use this rediscovery to help us weave together our past with our present and to use this knowledge to reshape our futures. You have definitely made an impact on me and I am sure to many others. You have also assured us that the culture and the traditions of our native kapwa are thriving in the modern world. I only wish you the best in your journey of reclaiming what was lost and planting the seeds of change in the people that you meet. Mabuhay ka!

Salamat, 

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P.S. Are you interested in Kollective Binhi’s amazing products?  Check out their website Ginto Seeds. Or follow them on Instagram @KollectiveBinhi

 

 

 

Ginto Part I

“If you look deeply into the palm of your hand, you will see your parents and all generations of your ancestors. All of them are alive in this moment. Each is present in your body. You are the continuation of each of these people.”
― Thich Nhat Hanh

Bringing your past to your present will help you to nurture a better and a more enlightened future. I had never imagined what kind of year 2017 would become and no matter how much sadness and regret debilitated me in the first couple of months after my Tita Leah’s death, I am back and ready to blog with a vengeance. This blog post is one of five parts, trying to come to terms with what I have learned so far. So please just embrace it and take what you need–and hopefully, it will spark something within you, to help you start you off into your own journey, as it had done for me.

It took me five months to come to terms with who I really am and what I am truly searching for. I’ve been trying to find answers from my grandparents and my parents, but I haven’t actually reached out to the community. It took my five months, a trip to Hawaii, an old lady with a story, and a festival to help me to focus on what I am actually looking for and to ignite that curiosity about my ancestry and my lineage.

Looking back at my week long trip to Hawaii, I always saw these small group of islands as the “Philippines that could have been”. A Philippines where we could have celebrated the beauty that lies in the colours of our skin, our vast oceans, our abundant forests, our rich and forgotten past–rather than glorifying the rich, continuing to oppress the poor, abandoning the indigenous, and destroying the natural jewels of our nation in the name of modernization.

 

Hawaii is so deeply rooted in its origins and its traditions that everything about the islands felt  like you were connected to its past. Every part of the island had a story to tell and you, as the tourist, were asked to listen. This trip had started a profound fascination with the islands that was quite unstoppable. In fact, to this day, I am still left in awe of the beauties of Hawaii and it wasn’t just the beaches or the landscapes. Hawaii was just home to some of the most laid-back people who embraced their situation. They were people who just lived off the land and who made the best of everything. They were your tour guides, your bartenders, your luau hosts, your entertainers, but no matter who they were, they were always so friendly and positive–it was infectious. You always came out of a restaurant or a theme park with a look of utter disbelief in how nice these people were. They took pride in what they did and made sure they pulled through for you–I was astounded by how much a “hello” or a slight acknowledgement went a long way in Hawaii and it’s that lifestyle, that outlook, that I took as my souvenir from there.

This is the place where I felt at home and where I belonged, because I had learned how to embrace my identity–my tan complexion, my black hair, and most importantly, my lineage. I was always told to stay in the shade, to avoid getting darker, but in Hawaii, I had no choice–shade was not an option. So, I came home looking like a different person, but for some reason, after all the years fighting my tan, I learned how to love it. My tan complexion is really important to me. I have come a long way and in my way of thinking, I feel like it is a symbol of my own Filipino identity–my true colour. It’s this simple acknowledgement of my skin tone, that led me to espouse my Filipino roots and out of all places, it was Hawaii that helped me to come to this realization.

 

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The Polynesian Cultural Center, located in the North Shore of Oahu.

 

Hawaii, Fiji, Tonga, Samoa, Aotearoa, and Tahiti were the “villages” that made up the Polynesian Cultural Center. Each village was simultaneously different and similar to others, but you come to realize that they were connected in some way. Their traditions were all rooted in music, dance, and most importantly their own personal stories. It was one in particular story that caught my attention. I wish I had known her name and I wish I had the courage to ask her more about her story. But all I could remember was walking into the Fiji village meeting hut where I found her. She smiled and looked at me and told me to take a stick, an instrument that we would later use. She taught us the basic language conventions of Fiji and some of their traditional songs, but it was in her story about her childhood that made us see how we are still connected to our past and that it is interwoven into our present and into our future as long as we continue to acknowledge it.

The highlight of her childhood was coming home from the school bus and meeting up with her grandparents. It was with her grandparents where she learned more about herself and her lineage. It was in their everyday conversations where she learned about her culture, her identity and the traditions that came with it. And it was just such a simple story, but it was her reaction, her storytelling, that made us really invested in it. Her eyes were full of joy and wonder as she talked, but then tears began to overcome her. She apologized, telling us that she misses them so much, and it was if it were yesterday that she had said goodbye to them when she left for Hawaii. She told us that she wasn’t able to come back to Fiji as often and she couldn’t formally say goodbye to her grandparents when they passed. But despite it all, she realized that she could continue their legacy through her own grandchildren. She made it an effort to teach her grandchildren the same things she had learned, and in hopes, that her grandparents’ traditions will live on and not be forgotten. And after drying her eyes and finding some composure, she encouraged all of us not to take the elderly for granted and to spend as much time with them as possible, because it is our time with them where we can listen to the voices of the past.

And it was this simple story that helped me to come to terms of who I am and of who I was to become. I have heard so many stories about my family background, not just through my Yaya, but through every family member. Stories can be found even within the most everyday conversations. The past can come at any point in time, making you realize that it continues to be a part of your present, just as long as you continue to keep it with you and not forget it. The past is still alive and even though you can’t change it, you can use that knowledge  to help you in your current state and in your future. But as that lady said, your past in not just yours. You share the past with your parents, your grandparents, and your ancestors, so in order to continue the legacy, you must cherish every bit of it. You must learn how to put your phone down and strike up a conversation. Because the answers you truly are looking for are not found in the world wide web, but in the voices of the past. You just need to listen. But if you don’t learn how to ask questions or you just don’t want to spend time with people, there will come a time when you will begin to wonder what your true story would be and it might be too late to find answers. So I encourage you to not take your grandparents, your parents, or any member of the family for granted.  Just take the time to listen, to talk, to laugh, to disagree, to question–so that maybe your curiosity will ignite and create this unruly, yet beautiful chaos that will overcome you and that will make you realize that the past is just as alive as your present.

 

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The lady from the Fiji Village, after they raised the Fiji flag and sang their national anthem.

 

 

Salamat and mahalo, 

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Ako

“I’m a hopeful cynic.”
– Tracy Chapman

Deep breath in from the nose. Deep breath out from the mouth. Repeat.

Writing is a thought-provoking process in which you need to construe your words in order for them to make sense–to make your thoughts tangible and relatable. But if your head is clouded with worry, stress, grief, and fear–it’s hard to write things down. It becomes difficult to focus.

When I first thought about my blog, I thought to myself that I would constantly be blogging, constantly having new ideas, and being able to write them down without hitting any barriers. I thought I would be confident enough to meet people, to ask them what their stories were, and to have meaningful conversations with them. I pictured an easier path. And then, one day, I got nothing. My doubts began to cloud my ideas and to overcome my confidence.  The photographs that I wanted to take, the people that I wanted to meet, the conversations that I would have had with them–all lost in my reluctance, because I don’t know if I really am the right type of person to write something like this.

But I took this time to reflect on what the true purpose of this blog is and why I first started it anyways. And then I realized, that it’s easier to search for people’s stories and so much harder to tell yours. And so here I am, before I officially start this blog over–maybe it’s time to tell you my story, to break the walls between us, to be able to relate, and to hopefully cleanse my doubts and clear my mind. And hopefully, in telling my story, I will be able to find the right questions to ask, the right people to talk to, and the kind of blog I want this to become.

Sometimes, you want to over-romanticize all of your experiences so that your story sounds like something found only in scripts or in the pages of a novel. Sometimes, you just want to tell it how it is–raw, uncensored, unchanged–no matter how boring or mundane your story may seem, but ultimately, you just want your story to be heard, to be questioned, to be made palpable by the person listening. And the stories you tell are only told to someone that you trust, someone that you care for, or someone that you want to reach out to, but no matter who this person is or what your story is about, you just want to make a point. To make a point that you are human and things happen.

So, I sit here trying to find a way–a way to get the bottom of who I am–so that maybe I can catch your attention again. To relive that moment–that spark–and to regain my focus.

2009. A crowded car, a tearful reunion, jetlag, and suddenly, a loud knock on our windows. I peered outside of the window and see three skinny kids dressed in oversized clothes holding a squeegee, trying to get their hands into the window–they were quickly dismissed and we resumed our homecoming, as if nothing had happened. Little did I know, that moment would stick with me. In the midst of a golden age in tourism for the Philippines, where foreigners yearn to swim and bask in the sun of our beautiful beaches, we are still a developing nation, waiting for the day where we can break free from the cycle of poverty. It is when I only got back to the Philippines did I realize that we were the lucky ones, the ones whose parents gave up their jobs, their degrees to bring us up in a place where opportunity is endless. And because of this sacrifice, this blessing, I am who I am today.

But growing up in an immigrant family, you don’t realize how lucky you are. Your uniqueness stands out to you, but growing up, you just want to conform. You just want to fit in. There were times when I would question why my parents decided to bring us up in seclusion–where we were different from the rest of the kids. I often got angry at them in secret, because they didn’t let me do the things that other kids wanted to do. I wanted to be part of ballet, to have that dance recital or to play soccer and to have that chance to be part of a team. But I never did have those opportunities, because my parents said that it  was too expensive or because there was no one to drive us since my dad was working night shifts at the factory. Rejection was my enemy, acceptance was my dream. And as a kid, you tried so hard for that dream to be attainable. You just want to feel like you belonged somewhere. And you wanted people to see that you are just like everyone else. You see, everything about me was different and at a young age, I was already conscious of it. With black hair, brown eyes, a tan complexion, and the famous Filipino flat nose–I stuck out like a sore thumb. I grew up eating rice for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, singing karaoke, having large family picnics, driving in convoys to Niagara Falls, and finding joys in food. I grew up not enjoying the things that other kids used to have–the latest toys, the latest pieces of clothing, everything. I became so frustrated of not being able to get the things I wanted. And over time, that frustration began to grow.

When I became a teenager, I rejected everything Filipino. I always concealed my Filipino side and always told people that I had some Spanish blood in me, even though it was only a small drop. I always told people that I hated Filipinos, because they never said hi to you in the streets, because they didn’t acknowledge you as a fellow kababayan, because they were mayabang, because you couldn’t trust them, because you heard of the things that they did, things that didn’t make you proud of your heritage. I always hated my nation, frustrated that we had a backwards way of thinking. I always hated the fact that all we did was glorify the celebrities, the love teams, and we couldn’t even acknowledge the working class. I was so angry. And when you sift through the Filipino magazines or you watch all the actors and actresses, you realize how beautiful they were–how white they were. They all spoke English so beautifully and didn’t have that dreaded Filipino accent.  And it’s this ideal of whiteness that struck me real hard as a teenager. And it’s this ideal that got me to reject my nationality, my heritage, my love for my language, and erase my true colours. I washed away my Filipino-ness with a bar of whitening soap, in hopes of becoming just like the actresses at home. I wanted nothing to do with my homeland. And that’s the way I lived for a while.

Renaissance. It is a term used in history to described the time of rebirth–a profound movement, that bridged the old with the new. And it is this term that I use for that moment when I first caught sight of that spark in 2009. When I realized that my homeland is more than just the past to me. I wasted all this time running in shame from who I am supposed to be. And like those people that lived in the Renaissance, I am slowly starting to discover the beauty that is our country. I have come to embrace what I have, what I am, and what I will become. I’ve found this renewed love for my culture, my heritage, and my language. I am slowly starting to pick up the pieces that I have tucked away from everyone. And I am putting them together, as I write this blog. And I’ve come to the realization that I am not ready to surrender to my doubts.

I want to say that I am sorry. Maybe these words hurt you. Maybe you could care less. Or maybe you just want me to change my way of thinking. And it’s that responsibility that I am going to leave to you, as the reader, as the person that listens. Just like with every story, there’s something to take away from it. Looking back at my childhood and my teenage years, you may think that I was a miserable soul. But when I look back, despite my inhibitions, my doubts, my fears, my insecurities, I see happiness. My parents could never get me to a ballet class or a soccer team. My parents might have gotten me to eat rice for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. My parents couldn’t give me everything that I wanted to fit in. But they gave me more than that. They gave me a life worth living, they taught me that hard work pays off, that family is forever, and in moments of adversity, just trust the process. And for that, I am forever grateful for their sacrifices.

And you know, they left it up to us siblings to find our way back home, to the Philippines. Without knowing it, they made my curiosity, my nationality, my love of country, to ignite over our every day conversations of the days past and the bygones of their childhood. It is at the kitchen table, where I found my love for the Philippines, where I learned about the past and where we discussed the future. It is at the kitchen table where I would ask my grandma all those questions about her life. Food and family–the two most important things to a Filipino–was also an avenue in which I have discovered who I truly was. And I hope after reading this, you realize that I am telling you these things for a reason–that there’s hope for you and I. To tell you that together, we must look to our past, to embrace the present, and to help us to change the future. It might be over the kitchen table, surrounded by friends and family, it might be in the comforts of your bed, all alone, but no matter where you are in the world, or where are you are in life–it is never too late to change who you are and to learn to love yourself. Because it is at this moment where you find your true purpose in life–to create a movement that you are passionate for–and who cares how big this movement will be. All that matters is that you are fighting for what truly matters to you.

And so I end this long post to thank you for letting me share my story. Thank you for letting me to break down the walls between us, to break down the façade that I have built around myself, and to break free from my past. I’m not perfect and no one will ever be, but just know that I am ready to listen to your stories. I am ready to embrace the imperfections of your life. To make your stories tangible. To paint a picture of the beautiful mess that is the Philippines.

I am ready.

Ako si Viel.

And welcome again to A Moreno Blogs.

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Salamat,

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Solidarity

“A house divided against itself cannot stand.” 
~ President Abraham Lincoln

To my dear Philippines, 

Nandito ako para sa iyo. I am watching the state that you are in–the chaos, the confusion, the violence, the bloodshed, and the uncertainty over whether or not our country will be roped into the reign of terror this world has so often seen.

In a world where hatred, chaos, and fear dictate our society, we lose a sense of hope and faith in the human race. We are constantly faced with blood, terror, violence, suspicion, discrimination, oppression, poverty, injustice, and it all seems like nothing is being done to put an end to this dreaded cycle. We are constantly fed negativity and biases that we choose not to question, but to believe. When I hear, see, and speak about these horrors, I question whether or not peace and love are a possible state of mind.

In the light of the recent events in Marawi City and most recently, in Manila, I question what the state of our country will be. Will the future of our country be that of instability? Or can we come together as a nation in solidarity against the utmost deplorable acts against humanity? How can we trust our fellow kababayans if we continue to do this to each other? How can we stand united? I think our answers lie in the words of the controversial President Duterte’s inaugural speech.

“Love of country, subordination of personal interests to the common good, concern and care for the helpless and the impoverished these are among the lost and faded values that we seek to recover and revitalize as we commence our journey towards a better Philippines. The ride will be rough. But come and join me just the same. Together, shoulder to shoulder, let us take the first wobbly steps in this quest.”

This speech was meant to be a long-standing manifestation to the people of the Philippines for the remainder of his presidency and we should not forget these words. Sometimes, we lose our vision when we’ve become blinded by the negativity of this world. We need to learn how to love our country whole-heartedly. Let us embrace our history–our pagan, Muslim, and Christian origins–as our history is a testimony of our strength, our integrity, and our solidarity. Our nation is built on many stories that we have yet to explore. Yet, sometimes, I feel we hide in shame of our country. We decide to create a façade and we blame our countrymen for the state of our country. We have  also conceded to westernization and slowly, we are losing our love of our language, our love of country, and our love of the uniqueness of our people. We mask our culture with the idea of “whiteness”, but we need to learn how to embrace every spectrum of kababayans. We must fully acknowledge each other and not let our crab bucket mentality get to the forefront of our unity. No matter our colour, our origins, our wealth, our beliefs, our political values–all of our stories are interwoven to become a magnificent mosaic that we know as the Philippines.

Let us come to love one another.  Let us embrace each of our stories and learn to listen to what they are. Let us not toil in our obsession for beauty, wealth, westernization, gossip, and celebrities–let us celebrate who we are as a nation, instead of pitting ourselves against one another in the name of jealousy and greed. Let us remember to listen to the cries of the oppressed and answer their calls. Listen to the stories of our kababayans. Look into their eyes, embrace who they are, and you will see the side of humanity that everyone is searching for–love, compassion, hope, and faith in each other.

As President Duterte said, it may be a rough road towards peace, but it is a fork in the road that many do not dare to tread. But let us see each other as equals, stand shoulder-to-shoulder and march on with love and solidarity as the forefront of our fight against hatred. It is not going to be easy, but we can make it easier if we help each other out. The world is not going to be perfect, but as long as we have a vision–we can make change happen.

Malasakit. Tunay na Pagbabago. Tinud-anay nga Kausaban.
(Compassion. Real change.)

I love you, Philippines. Stay Strong. Stand United.

Salamat,

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