Sunday, August 29, 2010

Short & Long Distance Appreciation

Something as simple as having the ease and ability to communicate in one’s native language can easily be taken for granted. I remember my first trip to Japan. Hardly anyone spoke English and everything was written in Japanese. My pocket phrase book became my bible, and my sense of security dropped to an all time low.

Sometimes we need to get away from things to really appreciate them. This may explain why one’s level of pride for their native country can elevate after immigrating to America. For us Igorots in America, we tend to have a higher appreciation for our native music, food, clothing and way of life after leaving our mother land.

Suddenly, pinikpikan (a staple dish) becomes a highly prized rare delicacy; the bahag (men’s loin cloth / g-string) and tapis (women’s skirt) becomes the tuxedo and ballroom dress; the gansa (gong-like musical instrument) turns into a Steinway grand piano, and our simplistic social customs – etiquette of royalty. Several Igorot friends come to mind as I write this. Prior to joining our group, Igorot Rhythms (an Igorot musical and dance group), they never wore our bahag (though it is still worn by many back home) or played the gangsa. Jeans and western clothing prevailed during their childhood, but ever since my late manong Henry Sadcopen (founder of Igorot Rhythms) strapped on his bahag with pride (commando style) and taught us the gangsa and dances; they developed a new sense of pride.

They wear normal clothing on a daily basis, but when they are performing with Igorot Rhythms in public; they go into their phone booths and come our as super Igorots ready to share their heritage to the awaiting crowd. Leading an outdoor parade down Chicago’s Navy Pier with bahags flapping in the wind exposing their buttocks, only elevates their pride. Except for the exposed buttocks, the same is true for the women in our group.

My relatives from afar see our pictures and videos and often tell me that we, in America, are more connected with our heritage than those back home in the Cordilleras. I feel good for my friends in Igorot Rhythms every time I hear comments like this, but when I hear these comments directed to me – I often wonder how this is possible. My Spanish is so much better than whatever Kankanaey or Ilocano I still have, and I have been in America for almost my entire life. I guess what they mean to say is that one’s “desire and efforts” to stay connected or re-connect (in my case) to one’s roots, far outweigh any shortfalls of language or culture.

If what some of us do here re-kindles the ancestral glow of those living long distances away, then maybe it is a good thing that things are sometimes taken for granted.

Friday, August 27, 2010

"Wide Awake in America"

The human need for acceptance is so strong that it can manifest itself into an addiction. Some people will go through any length to feel accepted. Once the pleasure of acceptance is felt, some people will do what they can to maintain this feeling despite any negative consequences.

This is a story of an American-Igorots’ struggle with finding acceptance in the totally Caucasian world he grew up in. Somehow, he has been given the opportunity to see himself as a boy growing up.  As he watches scenes of his youthful self growing up, a song finds its way into the picture. The name of the song is “Bad,” by the band U2. The lyrics come to life and magically become the man’s own words to his young-self:

“If you twist and turn away. If you tear yourself in two again. If I could, yes I would. If I could, I would. Let it go.”

The boy gets teased by white kids his age for having a flat and pudgy nose. They don’t know his ethnic background, but call him names like: chink, nip, pin head, zipper head, zero, gook and such. Pretty girls show no interest in him because he is different. This hurts him greatly.

“Surrender. Dislocate.”

He watches the boy do just that. He sees the boy abandoning his identity as an Igorot and before long, becomes disconnected from his true self. He continues to wish he could help the boy. . .

“If I could throw this lifeless lifeline to the wind. Leave this heart of clay. See you break, break away. Into the night. Through the rain. Into the half-light. Through the flame.”

Knowing the boy is about to take the wrong path in life, he wants so badly to steer the boy in the right direction . . .

“If I could through myself set your spirit free. I’d lead your heart away. See you break, break away. Into the light and to the day.”

The man wishes the boy knows what he knows. He knows not to be so influenced by society. He knows who he is. He is an Igorot, and most importantly a child of God. He knows real friends and loved ones will recognize this and false people will not. It took him many years to come to this discovery, and he doesn’t want the boy to wait so long to learn this. He wants the boy to wake up to this truth.

“To let it go! And so to find a way. I’m wide awake. I’m wide awake. Wide awake. I’m not sleeping, oh no, no, no.”

If only there were a way to get the boy to ask others who have gone through similar circumstances . . .

“If you should ask then maybe they’d tell you what I would say. True colors fly in blue and black. Blue silken sky and burning flag. Colors crash, collide in blood shot eyes.”

Oh, the man knows what he is going through. The boys’ struggles continue with him well into his young adult years. The plethora of feelings he sees rings a familiar bell . . .

“This desperation. Dislocation. Separation. Condemnation. Revelation. In temptation. Isolation. Desolation. Isolation.”

The man tries so hard to keep the wall of tears from collapsing. Again, the man wishes his young self will wake up . . .

“Let it go. And so find a way. To let it go, oh yeah. And so find a way. To let it go, oh No. And so fade away. I’m wide awake. I’m wide awake. Wide awake.”

U2 Bad (Wide Awake in America version) live in 1985 VIDEO

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Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Coconut Within

The Cocos nucifera, commonly known as the coconut palm tree, is such a beautiful tree that I am featuring it in this week’s topic. I will not delve into its contribution to the culinary world or its outer beauty. Anyone with an inkling of appreciation for ethnic foods can attest to its tasteful properties. As for its outer beauty, I think it’s safe to say that it outnumbers all other trees with regard to the number of times it appears on all the various forms of media, clothing and apparel.

Instead, I would like to draw your attention to its origins and inner beauties. Have you ever wondered where they originated? When I lived in Southeast Florida eight years ago, I learned that they existed in India more than fifteen centuries ago. So how did they get from India to so many places throughout the globe?

Well, the coconut fruit is so buoyant that it can float on water for a very long time. Long before they made it into the hands of seafaring people, they floated from India to other continents. Once they made their way onto land, they germinated and continued their cycle of self propagation. Today, coconut palm trees can be found throughout much of the entire globe where the weather is conducive for their survival.

When I think about my Igorot heritage, I think about how I am like those coconuts that ventured far from their homeland. I don’t mean “coconut” in the sense that I am brown on the outside and very American inside. Instead, I am referring to the inner qualities of coconut palm trees.

Next time you see a coconut tree, look at how its long single trunk reaches upward toward heaven and culminates in a small mass of long leaves and luscious coconut fruit. In a way, it suggests that its purpose, which is to bear fruit and help mankind, is clear and concise. There is no side or suckering branches to distract it from its purpose.

Its strength is also very impressive. Remember watching live footage of tropical storms and hurricanes on the news? There seems to always be a palm tree bending to the strong and forceful winds, but rarely do they ever snap in two like so many other types of trees. Time and time again, they prove their strength against disastrous winds.

Immigrants like myself also encounter forceful winds, but of another kind. These winds are society’s constant attack on our true identities and purpose in life. I see it all too often here in America. From gangbangers to corrupt wealthy politicians; more and more people are inundated with society’s false messages of becoming an idol, achieving personal goals, success at all costs, looking out for our own interests, and such.

The upcoming Labor Day holiday here in America reminds me of a scene from last year’s Labor Day. I was at a stop light watching a group of Middle Eastern men gathered for a picnic and soccer game. There were probably twenty young adult men playing soccer and another dozen talking amongst each other in groups. Out of all these thirty or so men, five were on their knees praying to Allah.

I couldn’t but help notice how the men praying were probably in their late thirties or forties, while the others ranged from late teens to early or mid twenties in age. The men praying were dressed in shorts like the rest and didn’t appear different except for the fact that they took the time to pray as they are required during certain times of the day.

I rolled down my window to hear if the younger ones were speaking in English or their native tongues, but was unable to hear them. I also looked at their grills to see what was cooking, but couldn’t tell because the light turned green and I had to continue driving. I drove off wondering how much of these men’s values and culture were no longer part of them, and if they fell victim to the social winds of influence here in America.

Where are the coconut trees that stand up to these gales of false messages? Where are the trees that refuse to forget where they come from and focus their energy on applying their character towards helping others more than they help themselves? Where are the trees that chose and stay on a righteous path?

Trees that follow man’s selfish and greedy ways live happily for a brief moment, but eventually succumb to a sad and lonely death. This was the case several years ago when I saw an aisle of live palm trees transplanted to the front of a Lexus car dealership in the outskirts of Chicago, and when the city of Chicago transplanted several palm trees along their beaches. Beautiful at first? Yes, but it didn’t take long before the evident signs of deterioration began appearing as they lost their vigor rapidly and eventually died at first frost.

There is a coconut in each of us. Not all coconuts are the same. They come in different shapes and sizes depending on the type of tree. Regardless of the type, it is up to us to allow the coconut within to grow or not.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Coming - My First Novel - "Igorotdo: The Warrior Within"

Follow Alex, an American Igorot, through the biggest adventure of his life.  In my first novel, "Igorotdo: The Warrior Within," readers will learn about Igorots, the importance of one's heritage and having a purpose-filled life while being entertained with adventure, action and romance.   

Find out more about my first upcoming novel in the "Upcoming Novel" tab.