Saturday, April 23, 2011

American Lenses: Igorot Eyes

I was fortunate to have been born with 20/20 vision.  My five sisters and parents weren’t as fortunate though.  For years, they have relied on corrective eyeglass lenses for adding or subtracting from their cornea’s focusing power, thereby creating the clear images of their daily lives.  Although I never physically relied on eyeglasses, I wore a pair of invisible lenses for which to see the world through.

My very first pair of lenses were Igorot made; forged from the Cordillera Mountains of the Philippines.  I only had those for four or five years, and I hardly remember wearing them.  For almost my entire life, the glasses I wore were American made.  I once tried a pair of Japanese lenses, but preferred the American made ones that I have been so accustomed to wearing.

If you have been following my latest blogs, you will definitely see how these lenses influence my writing.  Some of my fellow Igorots or Filipinos may have been scratching their heads wondering why I draw my inspiration from people like Ashley Judd, Bethany Hamilton, Tim Tebow and U2.  Well, that’s just who I am I guess. 

Most of my life has been spent on the flat plains of the Midwest and Southern areas of America.  The magic and splendor of the Cordillera Mountains were for the most part – absent.  I’ve always consider myself as American as most normal Americans.  I went to predominantly white schools all my life, dated white girls, love rock and roll, love football and basketball, enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps, and would die for this country I call home. 

I may see the world through the lenses of America, but my eyes are pure Igorot.  Lenses only project images for the eye to see.  When our cerebral eyes connect with our hearts, we are able to “see” clearly; and therefore, we are able to discern good from bad. 

I recently added a page on my website that associates my upcoming book, “Igorotdo: The Warrior Within” with well known movies, books and personalities.  Does the book seek to be a cheap imitation of any of these things?  Of course not.  I use these examples because they contain so many values, characteristics and similarities to the Igorot culture that my eyes and heart intend on sharing with the world. 

My Igorot culture has been able to withstand over 300 years of Spanish colonization, but somehow more and more Igorots are allowing themselves to become morally and spiritually colonized by the Western self centeredness that brings out the worse in all of us.  Take divorce for example.  Just because it is an accepted norm in American society, it doesn't have to be nor should it be as accepted by Igorots.  

I would like to say that my Catholic upbringing is the only thing that keeps me focused on my marriage and family, but there is much more to it than that.  I draw from something my father once mentioned about my Igorot heritage.  I learned that before there were ever Christian missionaries, we Igorots took monogamy seriously.

Were there ever Igorots who were unfaithful to their spouses? Of course.  If there weren't, we would be the only perfect people in the world, and I know this is definitely not the case.  However, the overwhelming majority of my ancestors entered marriage with a good purpose.  They did not enter it blindly or selfishly as many do today.  Also, we believed so strongly in the sanctity of marriage that the punishment for being unfaithful makes today's court precedings seem like a slap in the hand (something I will cover in a separate blog).

So, go ahead and wear whatever style, color or type of lense, but remember to see with your eyes, and in doing so, draw from that which is good in your ancestry.  

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Friday, April 15, 2011

ASHLEY JUDD: Who Do You Think You Are?

Who Do You Think You Are?

In my senior year of high school, I began hearing about the importance of “living the present moment” by spiritual mentors in my life and by leaders of that time.  One of my most influential leaders once said, “The past no longer exists; the future is not yet here. Just as someone travelling by train does not walk up and down the carriage to get to the destination sooner, but stays put, so we should stay in the present. The train of time moves on its own. We can only love God in the present moment given us, by saying our ‘yes’, a strong, total, and active ‘yes’, to His will."

This was later echoed through a more practical and zen-like perspective by the Japanese mentors of my early and somewhat recent adult life.  Whether the lesson about living the present moment came in the form of words, chanoyu, martial arts, zazen, gardening or sushi preparations; I always seemed to, and continue to struggle with any notion that the past plays little or no role in who we are today.  It is much easier to accept any of such notions if our past is made up of nothing but bad or evil things, but what about the good things of our past?  More importantly: the great and inspiring things?  

While I agree whole heartedly that the present is more important than the past or future, I can’t discount the importance of our past because it has a direct affect on the quality of our present being.  My novel, “Igorotdō: The Warrior Within,” demonstrates this by pointing out how the past can be filled with life changing discoveries that can help us become better people.  Fortunately, there are many others who also believe that we can gain positive things from knowing our past and the past of those before us.  I recently discovered a television series that promotes the importance of ancestry and learning about our past.

The television show, “Who Do You Think You Are,” is an NBC series that I highly recommend.  Many of the actors and actresses who are profiled have many great stories and lessons to share with its audience.  I will be blogging about the ones that inspire me the most so please stay tuned for future blogs.  Meanwhile, here’s one profile that I really like:


Emmy- and Golden-Globe nominated actress and humanitarian Ashley Judd is an eighth-generation Kentuckian on her mother's side.  Her more recent involvements as an activist for different human rights organizations has triggered a curiosity in her that had her wondering how many other people in her family also agitated for reform, and fought for the poor, exploited or disempowered.  Her curiosity led her to New England where she discovered many new things about her family that emigrated from Sicily, Italy.

The biggest discovery was that of her 3rd great grandfather, who served in the Union army during America’s Civil War.  Only a teenager at the time; he was twice a prisoner of war who endured heroic battlefield experiences.  Ashley was so taken by how psychologically strong and resilient he was that she called it a “life changing experience.”
To learn more about her discoveries, please visit the NBC site of “Who Do You Think You Are” to watch the full episode or watch it below.


After watching the episode, I first thought of how lucky she is to have discovered all the records she needed to make her discoveries.  This is not something most, if not all, Igorots have the luxury of possessing.  Since our ancestry has been passed down by oral tradition, it is unlikely we are able to trace back our family roots as far back as most people are able to do here in America.  Although  there has been a recent movement towards documenting the Igorot culture, so much about the ancestors of long ago has been lost forever.

Mel Gibson as William Wallace
in the movie "Braveheart"
Also, her 3rd great grandfather’s story had me thinking about the strength and resilience of my own Igorot ancestry.  It reminds me of the importance of sharing my ancestry to the world so that Igorots can also join the likes of the 13th century William Wallace and his Scottish highlanders, whose stories of bravery and resilience continue to inspire people throughout the world.  One can definitely read how my Igorot ancestors embody these two traits in my upcoming novel, “Igorotdō: The Warrior Within.” 

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Saturday, April 2, 2011


This morning, I had the opportunity to take my kids to watch a pre-screening of the soon to-be-released movie, “Soul Surfer,” starring Anna Sophia Robb, Dennis Quaid, Helen Hunt and Carrie Underwood. While waiting in line, I tweeted and posted on Facebook where I was and what movie I was waiting to see. The post ended with “stay tuned for a review.”

What I had in mind then was a simple posting saying something short, but after watching the movie, I had too much in my mind to fit in a tweet or post. I was so impressed with the movie that I decided to blog about it. So, here’s why I strongly recommend it:

It's a true story
Soul Surfer is the inspiring true story of teen surfer Bethany Hamilton. Bethany lost her left arm in a shark attack and courageously overcame all odds to become a champion again, through her sheer determination and unwavering faith.  Nothing beats a true story except for things inspired by a true story.

It’s something for the whole family
Today, we live in an age where it’s almost frowned upon to air shows and movies featuring happy families with both parents. Gone are the days of “Leave it to Beaver”, “Little House on the Prairie” and “Prince of Bellaire.” The family unit has changed so dramatically that it almost seems offensive to portray the American family as something it should be . . . a loving relationship between husband, wife and children.

I’m not one who believes in such a thing as a perfect family, but I strongly believe that families need to be there for each other at all times. I know the damage that results from broken up families; the destructive patterns that get passed down from generation to generation, and the dark things that no child should keep in their closets. I don’t need to tell anyone how saddening it could be for all involved, including society in general. Yet, these are the things that sell in Hollywood and continue to be fostered through television, movies and music.

Well, for those like me who have been waiting for something from mainstream USA to promote healthy family relationships; you will find this movie a breath of fresh air. The movie does a wonderful job portraying certain family dynamics that are so missing and needed in today’s world. Now if you’re the type who despises happy endings, positive and encouraging things; this movie may be hard to swallow.

Though politically incorrect for some, it takes a stand for good teachings
One thing that goes hand in hand with the frowning of traditional family structure is the mention of God and Jesus. Many deny the fact that there is an all out war going on between Hollywood and Christianity, but if you stop and observe all the shows being broadcasted, you will clearly see the absence of moral teachings. In fact, you will see aggressive attacks on Christian beliefs by companies you trust your kids to, like Disney. It baffles me how Disney allows and fosters shows like the recently announced pilot called, “Good Christian Bitches.” A show like that not only misrepresents the Christian community, but it is also very insulting for all women.

I love how “Soul Surfer” has a cast of well known actors and actresses such as Dennis Quaid, Helen Hunt, Carrie Underwood and AnnaSophia Robb starring in this movie that clearly has a Christian message. As I watched the movie, I thought, “This is like the Tim Tebow of movies.” Like Tim Tebow, who uses his professional football career as a platform to spread his Christian beliefs; this movie also shares its inspiring and moral messages to the mainstream audience. It takes a stand, and it does it in a way that is very accepting to those who would otherwise avoid it if it were called “Jesus Surfing” or similar.

The ethnic subtleties within
Being an Igorot whose ancestors were not Christian, but pagans who believed in the spirit world; I couldn’t help but notice the Hawaiian music used in certain parts of the movie. I’m sure for cinematic reasons; the music was needed, especially since the entire setting took place in Hawaii. However, maybe the producers carefully selected music like “Sunrise @ Maui Beach” to connect the audience to certain spiritual moments.

 If so, it sure worked for me because there is something about the native music of tribal people, like the ancient Hawaiians, that speaks to the non-peripheral ears of the heart.
Although Igorots have resisted the Spanish colonization for more than three centuries and still maintain their culture, many have converted to Christianity. For the most part, Igorots who now live in America and abroad no longer practice our ancient beliefs or worship our ancient gods. This is probably true with the native Hawaiians; though I’m sure there are still those who do.

The movie has many good messages. The strongest among them happens to be Christian; yet music from the non-Christian culture of Hawaii only amplifies these messages. Subtle, but true.
As more and more Igorots become modernized and westernized, the need for spirituality tends to decrease over time. Maybe if more people realize the importance of having a spiritual side in their lives, they might be more open to the teachings and lessons of God. I think much can be learned from our pagan ancestors.

It is purpose-filled
Mahatma Ghandi once said, “Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.” My parents and past mentors took it a step further though. They taught me to believe that unless these three harmonic elements are not applied towards other people, one will still be unhappy and unfulfilled deep within the recesses of his or her soul.

The movie throws out several biblical scriptures, but the one that really caught my attention was Jeremiah 29:11, which the movie quotes, “For I know the plans that I have for you, says the Lord. Plans to prosper you and not to harm you. Plans to give you hope and a future.”

This movie speaks volumes about having the kind of true purpose in life that will make people happy. It speaks of something that is rarely, if not ever, taught in the formal educational systems of our world. Instead, I hear only about the importance of having good grades and GPA’s so that we could find the happiness and prosperity that Hollywood and society sells. It’s no wonder that countless of people go through life unbalanced and unhappy.

Our purpose in life is perhaps the most asked question in the history of mankind. This movie does an excellent job addressing this question. I also attempt to address this in my upcoming book, “Igorotdō: The Warrior Within.” Hopefully, it also inspires people in their search of purpose.

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