Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving Day: Appreciating your Heritage

Happy Thanksgiving Day to all who live in America. This is truly a holiday worth celebrating because it is focused exclusively on the act of giving thanks for the things we are blessed with. This holiday exists because a group of people were courageous and brave enough to escape the religious persecution of their homeland to begin a new life of freedom here in America. Since then, countless of others have made the decision to leave their homelands and start a new life here. Whether it was done by boat, plane, automobile or feet; a price was paid by those who made it possible to experience all the freedoms this great country provides us. I hope we take the time in some shape or form to thank these people today.

I'm too tired at the moment to blog any further about this topic, so instead, I am providing the link to a related article I wrote for the Examiner. Please take the time to read more about our need to appreciate our heritage on this day of thanks.

Thanksgiving: Appreciate your Heritage

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Courageous: An Ethnic Appreciation

There is a first time for everything.  When I went to the theatre twenty nine days ago to watch Courageous, I left there knowing I would return to watch it again or at the very least, rent the DVD; something not out of the ordinary.  Little did I know that I would actually return to watch it four times at the theatre!  I’ve never done that before.

Because of scheduling conflicts, I saw it by myself on the opening weekend and then blogged about it that evening.  The following weekend was with my wife.  The third was with my two daughters, and the fourth was with my son.   Each time was different; same movie, but different meanings, lessons and perspectives.
After processing it for the last four weeks, I’ve developed a deep sense of appreciation for my parent’s decision of leaving the Cordillera Mountains in the Philippines to raise our family here in America.  Like most people, my parents saw America as the land of opportunities.  They not only wanted to escape the oppressive Marcos dictatorship that posed as a real threat to my family at the time, but they wanted more than what a politically and economically crippled country had to offer my five sisters and me.
I grew up watching them work so hard to support our family.  My mother came to this country as a registered nurse and my father was a civil engineer.  After several years, they left their careers to pursue the American dream via the free enterprise system.  As they went from successful business to successful business, I began developing the false notion that America’s opportunities were limited to material and tangible things.  Money, houses, cars, degrees, titles, prestige, accolades and so forth were the most touted things at the time (still is).  Unfortunately, my youthful ignorance allowed these things to define the American dream for me.  I was too young to realize it then, but I now believe that the greatest opportunity our country has to offer is the freedoms afforded to parents to raise their children to the best of their abilities and for us as individuals to become the person we are suppose to become in God’s eyes.
As first generation immigrants, my parents took advantage of these freedoms by sacrificing to put five six children through Catholic schools and working the free enterprise system hard enough to keep us from the dangers that are often associated with low income and poverty.  Yet, as much as they tried their best, which I believe they did; I wish they spent more time with me and became more involved in my life on an intimate level.  I see this as a common problem with many new immigrants.
In my almost forty years in America, I’ve noticed that many new immigrants I was and am exposed to (particularly Asians and Hispanics) who decide to pursue the American dream by working very hard, often fall short of spending the amount of time needed to mold responsible and morally-driven children.  Those with lesser education and skills work hard just to survive, while those of higher education and skills work hard to provide a so-called better lifestyle for their families.  Either way, the children are often the victims of what my Marine Corps drill instructor called “good intention, wrong execution.”  In war, this often leads to the deaths of fellow Marines.  In life, this often leads to the death of character and moral values in our children.  The facts mentioned and portrayed in Courageous only supports what I’ve seen all too often: teenage pregnancies, teen drug addiction, irresponsibility, lawlessness, gangs, violence, suicides and so many other destructive patterns.  This is why Courageous “hit me between the eyes” (as Courageous’ Nathan Hayes was quoted when he was talking about the resolution).

The movie makes it clear that everything starts within the home.  Although it focuses on the role of men, it’s pretty clear that the entire family unit is the foundation for everything. So many people make the mistake of relying on schools and outside programs to mold their children.  This needs to change especially since our world has progressively become dangerous for kids.  The internet alone is enough to raise strong concerns about the exposure to pornography and destructive patterns to children as early as their first grade and second grade years.  As the main character in Courageous says in his speech,

“You can’t fall asleep at the wheel, only to wake up one day and realize that your job or your hobbies have no eternal value, but the souls of your children do.”

I know there is no such thing as a perfect family, and that is why I appreciate my experience in America even more.  Whenever the family falls short, there are others outside the family who can help forge our character for the better.  When you combine a loving family with good people such as mentors, coaches, teachers and leaders; synergy is formed and wonderful things happen as a result.

After watching courageous for the fourth time, I thought about the people in my own life that made a difference, and an immediate sense of gratitude came over me.  Without people like Frank Dachille (basketball coach), Bill Neu (mentor), Ikka Nakashima (mentor), Sgt Whitten (Marine Corps drill instructor), Hoichi Kurisu (mentor), Art Williams (business leader), Sister Imelda (1st grade teacher), Sister Carol (high school teacher); I honestly think I would be worse off today.  Could people like these have entered my life had we stayed in the Philippine Cordilleras?  I don’t know, but if I were to speculate on this question, I think I would say “highly doubtful.”

I’ve always believed that if one sorts through all the bad garbage (and there is a lot) in America, one will find gems that make this country so great.  One of these gems is the making of inspirational movies like Courageous.  That’s right, even though Hollywood still inundates society with a plethora of degrading and harmful movies and shows; America still offers the opportunity for those who want to make a positive difference to create good and inspiring movies like Courageous, Soul Surfer, Blind Side, Fireproof, A Better Life and so forth.

When families and even mentors fall short, inspirational movies like Courageous helps fill in the gaps.  Thanks to Courageous, I have been blessed with the inspiration and opportunity to take my twelve and fifteen year old daughters to a restaurant where we made a pact similar to the father-daughter pact that Nathan had with his daughter in Courageous.  It wasn’t a fancy restaurant like in the movie, but it was more of their liking because of its Asian appeal – a Korean restaurant (one of their favorites).  Also, no rings were exchanged as was in the movie because one daughter thought it was a “cheesy” gesture.  Nonetheless, it was an unforgettable evening that would not have happened had I not seen the movie.  The movie also opened my children’s eyes to my desire to become the best father possible, which is truly priceless.   Lastly, it re-instills the importance of keeping an inspirational focus in my writing.

If you haven’t seen the movie yet, go see it or buy the DVD when it is available.  Until then, here is the sneak preview of the written resolution that the movie is centered on:

"I do solemnly resolve before God to take full responsibility for myself, my wife, and my children.  I WILL love them, protect them, serve them and teach them the Word of Goad as the spiritual leader of my home.  I WILL be faithful to my wife, to love and hoor her, and be willing to lay down my life for her as Jesus Christ did for me.  I WILL bless my children and teach them to love God with all of their hearts, all of their minds, and all of their strength.  I WILL train them to honor authority and live responsibly.  I WILL confront evil, pursue justice, and love mercy.  I WILL pray for others and treat them with kindness, respect, and compassion.  I WILL work diligently to provide for the needs of my family.  I WILL forgive those who have wronged me and reconcile with those I have wronged.  I WILL learn from my mistakes, repent of my sins, and walk with integrity as a man answerable to God.  I WILL seek to honor God, be faithful to His church, obey His  Word, and do His Will.  I WILL courageously work with the strength God provides to fulfill this resolution for the rest of my life and for His glory.  As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord."

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Courageous Fathers

I was prepared to blog about the significant advantage of growing up in America with role models, coaches and mentors as compared to other countries that lack these people, that is, until I went to see today’s matinee showing of the movie” Courageous.” The movie was so inspirational that I’ve decided to shelve the topic of mentors and coaches for another day and talk to you about something much more important – Courageous fathers.

The Need for Fathers

Since my growing up years in America during the 70’s and 80’s; the image, role and personification of fathers have taken a drastic change for the worst. Our nation has been severely kicked in the kidney by the staggering number of fatherless children. As a result, we as a nation, bleed from within. The incapacitating blood makes its way out in various forms of pain, anger and sadness.

The movie points out several interesting statistics that supports the need for fathers. Just Google “father statistics” and you’ll find plenty of evidence. For example, sums up the importance of fathers by stating:
“Children with involved Fathers are more confident, better able to deal with frustration, better able to gain independence and their own identity, more likely to mature into compassionate adults, more likely to have a high self esteem, more sociable, more secure as infants, less likely to show signs of depression, less likely to commit suicide, more empathetic, boys have been shown to be less aggressive and adolescent girls are less likely to engage in sex.”

It goes on to list shocking statistics such as:

• 63% of teen suicides come from fatherless homes. That’s 5 times the national average. (Source: U.S. Dept of Health)
• 80% of rapists with anger problems come from fatherless homes. 14 times the national average. (Source: Justice and Behavior)
• 85% of children with behavioral problems come from fatherless homes. 20 times the national average. (Source: Center for Disease Control)
• Daughters of single parents without a Father involved are 53% more likely to marry as teenagers, 711% more likely to have children as teenagers, 164% more likely to have a pre-marital birth and 92% more likely to get divorced themselves. (SOURCE: Morse, Jennifer Roback. “Parents or Prisons.” Policy Review, 2003)

The last time I checked, the last virgin birth occurred 2011 years ago. That means every child since then has a biological father. So then, where are all of you?

Being a Father Is NOT Enough

The University of Texas at Austin once surveyed 701 fathers and discovered that the top 4 major obstacles for fathers to overcome are: 1) Work demands, 2) The media, 3) Pop Culture and 4) Finances. I couldn’t agree more, only I would add “ego” as a 5th, but since all four essentially feed our ego, I’ll leave it at the four.

I believe every father is hit by all of these at one time or another, but as the saying goes, “It’s not what happens to us, but how we react to those things that determine the outcome.” A father’s lack of involvement in their child’s life can no longer be blamed on these outside forces. We can no longer stand on the sidelines and passively watch the lives of our children go by.

Today is Saturday, and that means college football for many men. Tomorrow will be NFL day. Take a look at all those men who paint their faces and do crazy things to display their passion for the game. I love watching American football as much as any other man. In fact, I can easily be one of those guys with a painted blue face doing the Gator chomp at a Florida Gator game. If we men can be so passionate about something like football, why can’t we be as passionate about our families?


The movie forced me to look deeper at my role as a father, and quite frankly, I was uncomfortable at first, but quickly found myself reflecting on all the four aspects mentioned above. My weaknesses surfaced. I’ve always known my weaknesses deep down, but I haven’t had the courage to confront them with the level of intensity and faith that I know it takes. What can I say; I’m just as human as anyone else.

In my upcoming novel, Igorotdo: The Warrior Within, courage is one of the lessons that the main character learns from his Igorot ancestors. This same courage that enabled his people to resist more than three hundred years of colonization by Spain, overcome the superior Japanese enemy of WWII and overcome discrimination from Americans and fellow Filipinos is a key component of being a warrior both then and now.

Let’s make no mistake about it – it takes a warrior to become the kind of father we are created to become in God’s eyes. It takes a warrior of courage to give up pride-fueling desires for the sake of his family. It takes a warrior of courage to do things he is uncomfortable with for the sake of the family. It takes a warrior of courage to change any negative and destructive patterns that were passed down to him by unloving parents. It takes a warrior of courage to survive the plethora of kidney punches and kicks imposed on us by society.

I’ll leave you with the lyrics of Casting Crown’s song “Courageous” . . .
“We were made to be courageous. We were made to lead the way. We could be the generation that finally breaks the chains. . . We were warriors on the front lines standing unafraid, but now we’re watchers on the sidelines while our families slip away. Where are you, men of courage? You were made for so much more. . . We were made to be courageous and we’re taking back the fight. . . This is our resolution, our answer to the call. We will love our wives and children. We refuse to let them fall. We will reignite the passion that we buried deep inside. May the watchers become warriors. In the war of the mind I will make my stand. In the battle of the heart and the battle of the hand, we were made to be courageous . . . “

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Switch heart Switch mind Switchfoot

Putting words on paper for a book, short story, memoir, novel and other forms or literature is a special task in itself. One profession that tends to be overlooked is that of song writers. Writing meaningful and inspiring songs always seems to impress me mainly because of how much can be told in such few amount of words. Many people think writing a novel is the most difficult thing to write, and it certainly can be, but I believe that writing songs that move ones soul towards a greater good can be as equally, if not more, difficult. Anyone can write fun, romantic and meaningless songs, but it takes a special songwriter to make a few words speak volumes in a way that engages someone deep within their core and has the power to provoke positive action and thought.

My first experience with such powerful songs was in my senior year of high school when I was introduced to the rock band, U2. For me, the lyrics from their albums “Unforgettable Fire” and “The Joshua Tree” connected with that inner part of me that longs for truth. Don’t get me wrong. The Edge’s unique guitar riffs and sounds, Adam’s almost navigational lead bass and Larry’s snares and rolls had a lot to do with my love for their music, but what captured me most were the words that came out of Bono’s mouth. Many people don’t realize that U2, one of the biggest rock bands ever, is also one of the leading voices of faith and social activism. If that statement intrigues you, get a copy of the book “Walk On: The Spiritual Journey of U2.”

The impact that music has had on me is one of the main driving forces in my desire to write. I find it incredible how musical lyrics can inspire someone to take positive action in their own lives. This is why we need more people writing inspirational music, books and novels. For all those writers out there already doing so, “kudos,” I say to you.

Going back to that time in my life; it was then that I realized the importance of feeding my mind with more music that provokes, inspires and challenges me to become a better person. I had a change of heart or “switch heart” so to speak. As a teenager, I began realizing how all the vice-inspiring music I once listened to mostly promote a kind of life that isn’t intended for me. I went from a change of heart to a change of mind or “switch mind” when I became more conscious of the lyrics and meanings of every song I heard. Did I completely stop listening to mainstream pop, rock and other genre music? Of course not, but when given the chance and choice, I usually gravitated toward music of inspiration and encouragement. I listen more to the lyrics than the musical notes and composition. My favorite U2 song, “40,” which happens to come from Psalms 40, eloquently captures my change in musical outlook at the time.

From "40":

I waited patiently for the Lord

He inclined and heard my cry

He lifted me up out of the pit

Out of the miry clay

I will sing, sing a new song

I will sing, sing a new song . . . "

Music is food. There is healthy music and there is junk music. Junk music is the songs that promote the vices that are behind all the unhappiness in our lives. Like junk food, this music is okay at moderate levels, but too much can lead to heap of soulful unhappiness.

U2 isn’t the only band I listen to, but they’re still one of the few “secular” sounding bands that can evoke meaning that is worthy of the good book itself. I try to keep up with current music so as not to cling on to the past. In fact, today I was listening to my favorite Christian radio station for an hour while driving home. They had the rock band, Switchfoot, as their live guests in the studio. In between interviews, they played songs from their upcoming album, Vice Versus.

As usual, I paid particular attention to the lyrics. Like U2, their songs contained lyrics that evoked a deeper meaning that could have anyone walking away a better person. Also like U2, the poetry and word play were so cleverly done that one could draw in the meaning and message rather than having it spoon fed to them. I liked all the songs, but the top three that I like most are “Where I belong”, “Thrive” and “Vice Versus. Just read a sampling of the lyrics and you’ll know why:

From "Thrive":

"I've been awake for an hour or so

Checking for a pulse but I just don't know

Am I a man if I feel like a ghost?

The stranger in the mirror is wearing my clothes

No, I'm not alright

I know that I'n not right

A steering wheel doesn't mean you can drive

A warm body doesn't mean I'm alive. . . "

From "Vice Versus":

"Let the pacific laugh

Be on my epitah

With it's rising and falling

And after all, it's just water

And I am just a soul

With a body of water and bones

Water and bones. . . "

From "Where I Belong":

"We were born into the fight

But I'm not sentimental

This skin and bones is a rental

And no one makes it out alive

Until I die singing these songs

On the shores of Babylon. . .

Still looking for a home

In a world that I belong

Where we can find the strong

Where the righteous can right the wrong. . . "

Switchfoot - Vice Versus

Switchfoot- Where I Belong

Switchfoot - Thrive

U2 - 40

Friday, September 9, 2011

9/11: Moving On But Never Over

Scornful Treatment of “Our Pearl Harbor”

The tenth anniversary of the devastating events of 9/11 (our Pearl Harbor) is fast upon us.  Hopefully, many people will remember, memorialize and pray for all those who lost their lives that horrible day.  Notice, I said "hopefully." 

Last July, I came across a headline about a lawsuit filed by an organization called “The American Atheists.”  The organization was demanding the removal of the cross enshrined at the 9/11 memorial and museum in New York City.  Fortunately, Congressman J. Randy Forbes slammed the lawsuit and defended the cross while calling the organization’s efforts “sad and misguided.” 

Earlier this week I learned of the terrible decision by the Mayor of New York City, Michael Bloomberg, to exclude any prayers from clergy at ground zero in this Sunday’s official memorial ceremony.  In addition, Mayor Bloomberg is NOT allowing the first responders (firefighters, police, paramedics, etc.) of that tragic day attend the ceremony.  What a shame!  What can be more scornful than that?

How about taking salt and rubbing it into the gaping wounds just mentioned, which many seem to be doing.  The salt I am talking about is actually the notion that we, the nation, needs to “get over” 9/11 and move on.  Hard to believe, but I’ve heard this mentioned on several occasions in the last few days.  The first thought that came across my mind was whether these people ever lost a loved one.  If so, they should know better than to think we should get over it.

Getting Over?

Let me shift gears here and attempt to address a topic that I think women are better at articulating: the death of loved ones.  Most men, including me, tend to allow our machismo to hide what I believe is a basic fundamental truth about how we get over the death of a loved one, and that is – we DON’T.  Oh sure, anyone can play the game and “appear” so, but the reality within the crevasses of our heart says otherwise.

Sixteen years has passed since the car that my parents and baby sister were in flipped into the air over the highway median and landed on a fast approaching car.  I lost all of them that day and the surviving five year old boy in the other car lost his parents as well.  Mourning is expected immediately after the incident and even months thereafter, but for some reason, people develop a notion that one “gets over” it.  To the common eye, I certainly appear so because I am able to talk about them without signs of pain (usually).  Some of the large pictures of them that used to take up wall space at my last residence remain stored in the basement of the new house.  By appearance, I guess it's easy for one to come to the conclusion that I'm over it.

The truth is, I never got over it, and I will never get over it.  I love my dad.  I love my mom.  I love my sister.  I still periodically dream about them as if they were still alive, and when I wake up, I try going back to sleep so that I can be "there" with them longer.  Every time I meet new parents in their early thirties, I think about my sister and the kids and husband she would have had she survived the crash.  In some shape or form, I think about them every day. Their deaths have created three vacant holes in my heart/soul that only they can ever fill.  Fortunately, their love gives me the faith to believe that someday those holes will be filled if I make the right decisions in life and join them in their heavenly splendor, but until then, the holes remain within.

Moving On

Last month, my friend, Marlon, invited my family to his house to join them in a memorial dinner in memory of his father and grandfather.  I was pleasantly surprised to get the invitation because it was something more of his planning than that of his wonderful wife.  Like most men, Igorot men are no different when it comes to keeping our macho wits about us.  When we arrived, several others of our Igorot friends were already there.  I walked into the dining room and smiled at all the delicious food set on the table.  Immediately next to the table were two large pictures of his father and grandfather that stared at everyone in  the room.  It was an appropriate setting.

We all gathered around the table and listened to his heartfelt memorial prayer.  Upon the conclusion of his prayer, we “moved on” and began eating in a more festive spirit.  Later that evening, several of us were gathered in the dining room talking and drinking.  It so happened that we all lost a loved one somewhat recently. 

I poured a glass of brandy for everyone and we all did a toast to those we lost.  Afterwards, we took turns sharing our funniest memory of them.  It was great to cut through all the small-talk smoke and mirrors and just talk about someone we cared so much about, even though it was humorous.  It’s these moments of memorializing that helps us move on with our lives.  More importantly, they help remind us of our tasks as parents and the need to leave behind that which is most important – Love.

Our Pearl Harbor

On December 7, 1941, Pearl Harbor was attacked by the Japanese Imperial Navy.    Hundreds were injured and nearly three thousand Americans were killed.  Those who survived the attack and are still living today will tell you that they never got over it.  Imagine how they would feel if prayer were not allowed at the memorial services then or if the military service men and women survivors were not allowed to attend their tenth anniversary in 1951.  Has main stream society’s political correctness gone too far?  Yes it has.

However, you can make a difference by not allowing this weekend to go by without taking a moment to pray in your own way for those who lost their lives, their surviving loved one and the future of our country.  Like Marlon's dinner; the combination of prayer, fellowship and memorials are what will keep this country from deteriorating.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Highlanders Global

I recently started a Facebook group called “Highlanders Global.” I have been wanting to create such a group since I met a few Scottish highlanders during a July 4th parade in nearby Downers Grove, Illinois several years ago. The idea remained in my head like a dormant seed until last March when my family and I met a very nice Goral highlander family from Poland. Shortly after our encounter, the seed germinated and I began doing some research into their culture, which led me to research more about the Scottish highlanders.

Scottish Highlander Band                         Goral Highlander

The encounter and research into the Goral culture compelled me to write a blog called “Gorals and Igorots.” In June I came across several Scottish highlander authors through Twitter. One of them posted an article about the wearing of their kilts, which led me to more research that resulted in another blog called “The Fabric of Highlanders: Scottish and Igorot.” By then, the little seed that sprouted grew enough to finally find the time to create that Facebook group I wanted.

Several days have passed since I created the group and I still have to find the time to add some real content such as discussions, related posts and such. I had plans to work on it this past weekend, but a camping excursion with many of our friends kept my computer virtually closed all weekend. After a weekend of camping, biking, hiking and boating; I was ready to put things off another week until this morning.

Sore, tired and sleep deprived; I stopped at a nearby oasis (rest area/food court situated directly above the highway) during work to buy a cup of espresso from the Starbucks within. Ahead of me in line were two men and a young girl. They were of medium-dark complexion and were speaking to each other in another language that sounded familiar. When I saw that the girl was wearing a shirt that had the word “Ethiopia” on it, I suddenly remembered where I heard their language. It was at our favorite Ethiopian restaurant in Chicago called “Ethiopian Diamond Restaurant.”

When it came time for them to pay, I saw that they were short 35 cents. One of them looked over his shoulder at a distant table where the rest of his party sat eating. He bent down and said something to the girl as he pointed to their table. From the looks of it, it seemed like he was telling her to get more money and bring it back to him. Without hesitation, I reached into my pocket, pulled out 35 cents and handed it to the cashier.

The other Ethiopian man saw what I was doing, shook his head and said in his broken English, “Oh no, no sir, we have money.” I smiled and replied, “It’s no big deal. Really. Please allow me.” Realizing I was intent on helping, he smiled and thanked me.

Ethiopian Highlands

They returned to their table while I waited for my espresso. While waiting, I watched them as three more of their friends just joined them. The adults stood up and greeted the newcomers by kissing them on both cheeks – a sight I often saw when eating at the Ethiopian Diamond Restaurant. With espresso in hand, I began casually walking in their direction while heading toward the exit.  As I approached their table, the man I talked with stood up and looked at me. I smiled as he said thank you again. I veered toward their table and began talking with them.

“Are you Ethiopian?” I asked.

They all smiled and replied almost in unison, “Oh yes.”

I introduced myself and told them how I love Ethiopian food. They looked happily surprised.

“You know about our food?” asked one of the ladies.

My last Easter Meal at Ethiopian Diamond
“Of course,” I replied. “My favorite is Yebeg Watt (lamb in spicy sauce) with Injera (flat bread).”
The whole table smiled with happiness.

The man who remained standing then introduced himself as Awate (I think that’s how it’s spelt) and proceeded to introduce his family, brother, sister-in-law and mother. They were from Minnesota and were passing through Chicago on their way to visit family in New Jersey. Awate then told me that his mother arrived to the U.S. on a tourist visa last week. When I asked her how she likes our country so far, she just smiled and looked at Awate for a translation before replying.

“She is very happy to be with her children, but she is already missing home,” Awate relayed to me.

“She misses the mountains where we’re from.”

“Mountains?” I asked as my ears perked up.

“Yes,” he replied with pride. “We have some of the tallest and most beautiful mountains in Africa.”
Thrilled to hear this, I happily and surprisingly replied, “Really!? No kidding. I am also from some of the highest mountains in my country.”

This triggered a very fascinating 20 minute conversation with them about the mountainous regions of Ethiopia. I learned they are called Eritean, but are also considered highlanders and those who lived below are also referred to as lowlanders. It fascinated me to learn how they are the only people of Africa who weren’t colonized by foreigners. When I told them how Igorots weren’t colonized by Spain and other countries, they were also truly amazed. Like Igorots, they have their own language and culture that distinguishes them from their fellow Ethiopians and Africans. Most of the Ethiopian highlanders are Christian while most of the lowlanders are Muslim. I would love to have stayed longer conversing with them, but I was running late for a work related appointment.

Ethiopian, Polish, Scottish and Filipino Highlands

Today’s pleasant encounter reinforced earlier thoughts about the importance of learning about other mountainous cultures and finding common denominators or similarities between them. I believe that by doing so, more people will come to a level of respect and brotherhood that can lead to world unity.

If you know of any highlanders from any corner of the globe, please share this and the Facebook “Highlanders Global” group link with them.  

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Picnics of Culture

It was 9:00 am on the Saturday morning of August 20, 2011. Still dressed in my sleeping attire, I rushed out to my car to buy bile for the large pot of Papaitan that I prepared. Nothing but clouds filled the sky as the dewy scent of rain swept inside my nostrils. “Oh no,” I thought. “If we get rained out, who’s going to eat all this food?” My concerns only grew when the music on the radio was interrupted by a Weather alert informing people of a severe thunderstorm passing through the area where our picnic was to be held. Hearing about winds of up to 60mph and a storm capable of producing golf-ball-sized hail was enough to get me thinking about a last minute cancellation.

After buying the bile, I rushed back home and checked the local weather radar. “Whew,” I gasped as the orange and yellow images of the storm looked to stay well north of our picnic location at least until 1pm, and even then, there was only a fifty percent chance of storms thereafter. My family quickly loaded my car and headed to the picnic. Ten minutes after we left the house, rain began to drizzle onto the windshield.

“It’s only a stray drizzle,” I thought as I manually turned the windshield wiper on once to clear the droplets off the windshield. After a few more single manual wipes of the windshield, a sinking feeling set in my stomach as I found it necessary to change the wipers to the medium automatic setting. Then my phone rang. It was our friend Marissa, who was also on her way to the picnic. “It’s raining pretty hard here,” she said. “Many are asking me if we are still having the picnic. What do you think?” she continued. A part of me wanted to cancel the picnic, but again, “Who’s going to eat all this food,” I thought.

I told her the radar showed promising signs and that we still had the shelter of a pavilion to rely on in the event it really rained hard. A few minutes later another call came in. It was our friend Gerald. He told me that he had just arrived at the picnic location and it was really down pouring hard. The rain was so hard that he asked me to consider moving the picnic to the nearby office of one of our friends. Again, I convinced him that the radar showed the rain passing us quickly. I lied of course. The radar actually showed heavy rain for the next three hours with more to come in the early afternoon.

When we arrived to the picnic site, the rain lessened enough to allow us to unload our things without getting soaking wet. We walked through puddles of water that saturated the grass. Our feet were already soaking wet. As soon as we entered the pavilion, I was so happy to see my uncle Sammy barbecuing chicken. By the looks of it, he must have been there since 9:00 am that morning. “This is good,” I thought. “This has got to be a good omen.”

Despite the heavy rain, people started showing up in consistent numbers with a dish or desert to contribute to our potluck event. Before we knew it, an entire Lechon, barbecued chicken, Papaitan, Dinakdakan, Pancit, Dinardaran, Pinakbet, beef stew, Tilapia, Kikiam/Afritada, Tapey, fruits, deserts and much more graced three picnic tables. We had a wonderful mixture of “old folks,” young folks and kids present.

The rain quickly subsided and we found ourselves with an entire afternoon filled with sun. After filling our bellies with glutinous-diet busting-morsels of delight, we commenced with games for both young and old. Dancing? Oh, you better believe it. Out came the gangsas, sulibaos and takik. We made sure to include our cultural dances throughout the rest of the afternoon. I was very pleased to see everyone partaking in the dances, and I was especially happy to see visitors from Pittsburg (a clan in their own rite) partaking in the dancing for their first time.

The picnic was just another testament of the Igorot spirit. Despite adversities, we still manage to overcome them. I am lucky to have friends in BIBBAK to help me stay connected in this land where cultural identity is easily lost.

Monday, August 15, 2011

World Chaos, Melting Pots, American Igorots and Persistent Hope

World Chaos

If any of you have been keeping up to date with world and national affairs this past month, you might have come to a conclusion that the world is in chaos.  If so, I don’t blame you because that’s how I felt.  The following headlines grabbed me as both mind-boggling and very heart-wrenching: The Norwegian Massacre by Anders Behring Breivik,  Senseless Violence & Flash Riots by Teens in Philadelphia, Rioting and violence in England and the whole Government and Economical Debacle of America.

“What is going on?” I asked myself daily.  “What kind of world awaits my children?”  “Is there hope?”  Then it hit me when I recently stood on a small stage in front of several hundred people at the Rosewood Banquet Hall on August 6th.  I came face to face with a bright glimpse of hope. . .

BIBBAK Illinois at Baguio City High School Reunion - Chicago

Melting Pots

 I was with more than forty Igorot friends, who are part of our Igorot cultural group called BIBBAK-Illinois.  We were attending the Baguio City High School Reunion dinner, which we were invited to perform some of our cultural dances for their alumni.  This was an invitation we couldn’t refuse.

Instead of dressing at the banquet hall, our group arrived wearing our native attire:  The women in their tapis and the men in our wanes.  I was one of the first to enter the banquet hall.  As I walked in, a Filipina lady greeted me with a smile and said in English, “Oh good, the natives have arrived.”  When I heard her refer to me as a “native,” I immediately took it as a compliment because the word speaks high volumes about my “indigenous” culture.  I looked at her as she asked me how many others are coming in her Tagalog language.  Then I smiled and told her the rest of the group will be arriving shortly.

Anybody who grew up in the Cordillera Mountains of the Philippines would have already expected a mix of Filipinos at the reunion, but this American raised Igorot needed to be reminded by others that Baguio City in the Philippines is a melting pot of both lowlanders and Igorot highlanders.  The metropolitan city, though rich with Igorot culture, is also home to many Ilocano and Tagalog lowlanders.  In fact, other ethnic groups have made the city their home.  In a way, it is a microcosmic example of the American melting pot I live in today.

The formal setting of the dinner accentuated the contrast between our BIBBAK group and the alumni.  The alumni women were dressed in very beautiful dresses, many of which were in traditional Filipino styles. Some of the men wore suits, but the majority preferred the formal Tagalog Barong shirt.  As we waited in the hallway, I couldn’t help but notice how many people were speaking Tagalog instead of Ilocano or any of our native Igorot languages. 

American Igorots

As many of you may already know, I can never say enough about the importance of maintaining one’s cultural identity throughout the assimilation process of becoming an American.  Every time I see a young Igorot who just immigrated to America, I see myself and wonder if that little boy or girl will lose touch with their Igorot culture like I once did.  I also wonder whether or not their parents are so concerned about their child’s assimilation that they might stop talking to them in their native language.
These days I look at my kids and often wish I could pass down my family’s Kankanaey language to them or at the very least – the Ilocano language.  Unfortunately, this is something I am unable to do.  Fortunately though, language isn’t the only thing that makes up the identity of one’s culture.  More important than language are the inner qualities that define the goodness of any culture.  This is what I can pass onto them.
With that said, I must admit that I lost focus of the main reason why we accepted the invitation to perform at the reunion - to share our heritage.  What was once a pride for my heritage suddenly gave way to the political correctness of modern day society.  At first, I had intended to invite the audience to join us in dancing our native dances.  I was certain that we would have many people leaving their seats to join us, but self doubt entered my thoughts.  
“What if we offend some of them by assuming everyone embraces our culture?” I briefly thought.  “What if they just want to watch?  What if none of the audience will join us? . . .  what if . . . what if. . .”

Thank goodness I had parents who didn’t allow what others thought of them to dictate their actions.  Thank goodness I inherited that same quality.  Thank God I was able to cast such doubts aside and proceed with our original plans of involving the audience. 

Persistent Hope

Anyways, there it was – Hope.  The kind of HOPE that transcends the negative things of our world.  The same kind of hope found when Christ himself prayed, “May they all be one” (Jn 17:21) shortly before he died.  A hope that is only possible through unity.  Yes, there was unity in that banquet hall that night; unity in the form of music, dance and brotherhood.
When the children of our group proudly danced to the rhythms of our instruments, I saw hope.  When Catholics, Protestants, Pagans and Agnostic danced together, I saw hope.    When highlanders, lowlanders and non-Filipinos danced together, I saw hope.  Hope.  Hope.  Hope.

You see my friends; we didn’t accept the invitation to dance at the reunion for monies sake, for no money was ever discussed.  We aren’t “professional” performers nor do we strive to become as such.  I have seen firsthand how such aspirations only tear apart Filipino cultural dance groups.  No, we just like to dance because this something we Igorots have always liked and will hopefully continue to like.  We just wanted to share our culture.  By just “sharing” our culture, a heavenly sense of unity was briefly created within this chaotic world.

If our culture (or any culture for that matter) is going to survive, unity within and abroad must be present.  Be proud of your heritage, but see the goodness of others as well.  For the most part, unity is Love. 

Albert Ellis once said, “The art of love . . . is largely the art of persistence.”

For the sake of generations to come, it is vital to be persistent in our efforts to live the kinds of lives that not only exemplify the goodness of our Igorot culture, but more importantly – the goodness of mankind.

“Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence.  Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent.  Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb.  Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts.  Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.  The slogan press on has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race”   - Calvin Coolidge
In closing, I wish to thank all the Baguio City High School alumni and the organizers of the event for inviting my friends and I.  You really made us feel welcomed and part of your family.  Your gifts of various tapis and wanes from different Igorot tribes are very much appreciated.  Thank you. 

Saturday, July 30, 2011

X-Men and the Beast Within

Hollywood and its twisted values have made it increasingly harder for me to surrender whatever valuable time I have in life to the misleading influences of its culture.  When movies like Soul Surfer, Blindsided, Glory Road, Forrest Gump and such are released, I am one of the first to see it because I am always yearning for inspirational lessons that can help me stay the true course.  However, every now and then I will accompany my kids to watch something just for pure entertainment.

Several weeks ago, I watched “X-Men First Class” with the family.  Why not, I thought.  I enjoyed the action and the whole good versus bad theme of the previous X-Men movies, and besides, it’s the only action movie my oldest daughter will see.  Fortunately for me, I got much more out of the movie than sheer entertainment.  Yup, I was actually very inspired by the character named Hank McCoy.

In the movie, Hank is introduced as a very intelligent mutant who displays large feet, acrobatic strength and speed as his mutation.  Unwilling to accept his mutant identity, Hank develops a serum that is intended to turn him into a “normal” person without any visible mutations.  The experiment goes wrong, and instead of reversing his mutation; it only accelerates it and turns him into the hairy blue mutant known as the “Beast.”  In the end, he comes to accept who he is and as many of you know; uses his mutant powers to help mankind as a government official with the title of Secretary of Mutant Affairs in “X-Men: The Last Stand.”

Whether we like to admit it or not, many people who appear to be different within their culture, often wish they could be “normal” like everyone else.  Rather than focusing on becoming the person God created them to be, many of them do all sorts of things to become “normal” – to become accepted.

I was once like that. No, not a mutant with large feet or special powers.  Rather, an Igorot who wished I could be “normal” like the entire world I grew up with in Caucasian suburban Oak Park, IL, USA.  I knew I was different.  The teasing and being called chink, nip and other racial slurs were periodic reminders of that fact.  I used to look in the mirror sideways and wish my nose wasn’t flat and round, wonder why my straight hair wouldn’t stay “feathered” like the other boys (I’m giving my age away here) and even wished that my parents didn’t have their strange accents.

Hence, my hair became victim to perm experiments and even my sister’s curling irons.  I watched popular movies and emulated behavior, speech and cultural trends.  Self consciousness eventually overtook me.  After grade school, I moved to Florida where I thought all my efforts of becoming “normal” paid off.  Instead of being ridiculed, I quickly found myself more than accepted by my peers.  I became the captain of my high school basketball team, dated the blonde cheerleading captain, and became junior homecoming king and so on.  I was finally “normal” like the rest . . . so I thought.

I couldn’t have been more wrong.  I may have appeared “normal,” but I actually became “less” of who God created me to become – an Igorot with a purpose that contributes to His greater plan for me.  By injecting himself with the serum, not only did it accelerate Hank’s mutations, but it also accelerated the process it took for him to accept his true identity. I wish I had a similar serum.  Maybe it would have saved me decades of trying to be normal.  NORMAL?  Normal in the eyes of society is highly overrated.  On the other hand, normal in the eyes of God only means we are meant to stand out from society's ideal of normal and become the person we have been created to become.

We are all made to stand out for the greater good

As with Hank, who turned into the “Beast,” there is hope for people who accept their identity.  Although Hank became the iconic blue skinned creature, his gifts of great intelligence and creativity turned out to be his true identity.  Rather than use his gifts for bad, he used them to help fellow mutants and mankind.  I can only hope and pray that more people fight society’s ideal of who they should become, and realize that their true identity is not what society purports it to be.  Our inner gifts make up our true identity, and our identity is meant for a greater purpose.  Everyone’s true purpose is already laid out for them.  All we need to do is listen within.  

Friday, June 10, 2011

The Fabric of Highlanders: Scottish & Igorot

Scottish Highlands

Almost seven thousand miles away from the Cordillera Mountains in the Philippines is another impressive range of mountains known as the Scottish Highlands. It is located north and west of the Highland Boundry Fault, which separates the Scottish highlands from the Scottish lowlands. Being an Igorot highlander, I have always been intrigued with the Gaelic culture of the Scottish Highlanders.

When reading about the differences between Scottish highlanders and lowlanders, I became fascinated knowing that they have many similarities with Igorots in that their language, food, clothing, physical features, religious and spiritual beliefs also set them apart from the lowlanders. The most intriguing of these is their clothing.  Like Igorot clothing, it not only identifies them, but it also envelops their entire culture.

The first thing that comes to mind when I think about Scotland is the male garment known as Kilts. The two words,”Kilt” and “Scottish”, seem to go hand-in-hand and are inseparable in my mind. Take the movie, “Braveheart," for example. Even though there are historic inconsistencies with timeline and apparel, the largest being the absence of kilts at the time of Sir William Wallace; the movie would suffer greatly had the men not worn kilts.  I can understand why Mel Gibson bent the timeline so as to depict a Scotland that many non-Scottish people identify with.

I also find it fascinating how their different tartans (colored patterns) eventually became associated with a particular Scottish clan or Scottish family heritage.  This is also true with the clothing of Igorots.  Though we do not have tartan patterns, an Igorot person's heritage can be identified with the patterns and colors of their traditional clothing.

Scottish Tartans
The kilt has been such a great part of the Scottish Highlander's culture for many years.  In fact, it was so great that the British government that ruled Scotland in the mid eighteenth century attempted to bring the Highlander warrior clans under their control by attacking at the very heart of their culture - their clothing.  On August 1, 1746, Britain created The Dress Act, which was part of the Act of Proscription of 1746. It essentially made it illegal to wear the clothing of Highlanders, which included tartans and kilts.

On July 1, 1782, the Act was finally repealed and a proclamation was issued in Gaelic and English that said,
"Listen Men. This is bringing before all the Sons of the Gael, the King and Parliament of Britain have forever abolished the act against the Highland Dress; which came down to the Clans from the beginning of the world to the year 1746. This must bring great joy to every Highland Heart. You are no longer bound down to the unmanly dress of the Lowlander. This is declaring to every Man, young and old, simple and gentle, that they may after this put on and wear the Truis, the Little Kilt, the Coat, and the Striped Hose, as also the Belted Plaid, without fear of the Law of the Realm or the spite of the enemies."

Liam Neeson wearing the Great Kilt of the early 1700s
When I first learned of this discrimination, the first thing that came to mind was how the historic Igorot male attire, the Bahag or Wanes (more commonly known as G-String by westerners) came under attack when Filipino lowlanders used it to portray Igorots as having tails so as to cast a negative impression about Igorots. It may be hard for many to believe, but this silly notion still lives on in this modern and highly advanced society. Sadly, discrimination against our culture continues within the Filipino and non-Filipino cultures.

In 2010, three young Igorot men were discriminated against for wearing their native attire to former President Clinton’s “Embracing Our Common Humanity” forum in the Philippines. Both American and Filipino personnel tried kicking the three men out for wearing their native Wanes. A month later, the U.S. government finally apologized on behalf of President Clinton to Igorots and all Indigenous people.

On a much subtler scale, my Igorot friends and I partook in a large Filipino cultural event in Chicago today.  We led a parade consisting of Filipinos who represented various parts of the Philippines.  After the parade, we had the Igorot children perform dances inside the museum.  It turned out to be a great event, and the turnout from Americans, Filipinos, and other ethnic groups was fantastic.  This is our third year to participate in this event, but for the first time I had some mixed emotions because we were asked not to expose our buttocks for fear that it might offend children and others.

When I first heard of the request, my first reaction was, “But that’s how it is worn – without underwear.  If we are to share our culture, than why must we hide who we are?”  Then I thought of the Scotts and how they are able to easily get away with wearing their kilts without underwear.  "Wow, how lucky they are," I thought.

Today, we had some people wear a wanes for the first time.  My teenage nephew, who is half Igorot, was one of them.  I could see a sense of apprehension or discomfort on their part, but as the event moved forward, they quickly adapted to their new-found feeling of freedom.  I could also sense that there were those who would have preferred to have that "full" sense of freedom that comes without underwear.  Throughout the event, I couldn't help but think about the request to hide our buttocks.

My thoughts eventually led me to a greater sense of appreciation for our native attire.  Underwear or no underwear (preferably no underwear), the act of wearing and/or appreciating our native attire is crucial because once we lose our native attire, it becomes easier to lose who we are, and that is a bigger loss that no underwear can make up.

So, for all you Highlander men out there: wear you Kilts and Wanes with pride.

Igorot children line up for today's parade at Chicago's Navy Pier
Igorot children line up for today's parade at Chicago's Navy Pier
Igorot teenagers also partaking in today's parade

Monday, May 30, 2011

Memorial Day 2011

I am a child of God.  I am an American.  Today, I give thanks to all men, women and children of all ethnic groups who gave their lives so that I am free to share these thoughts with you today.  Join me as I offer thoughts, prayers and salutes to those people.