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.