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. 

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