Friday, October 29, 2010

Waiting for Superman

Saw this documentary by Davis Guggenheim (of Inconvenient Truth).
Notes to self include:
- ignoring the obvious: what does race have to do with the failing school we see today? 50yrs after Brown vs Board of Education, schools are more segregated than ever (Harvard study of 2000). Guggenheim chose not to address this. See Bonilla-Silva's Racism Without Racists.
- most of the failing schools are from low-income, inner-city, communities of color. is there a connection between de-industrialization, white flight, outsourcing, loss of jobs and failing schools in these places?
- what legislations have been put in place to de-fund schools (Prop 13 in CA)?
- yes, there are teachers who shouldn't be in the classroom. is the solution to weaken teacher's unions?
- how do federal mandates like No Child Left Behind punish low performing schools and deepen the crisis? Is Obama's policy any better?
- who is this "Superman" hero and what does he represent? or who does he represent?
- Detroit's Another Education is Possible:  the devastation of deindustrialized Detroit is creating a revolution. Grace Lee Boogs: We have to stop waiting on government and corporations to save us, we have to redefine the meaning of education, work, community away from the economic model. is there a different model to work with? what values must this revolution embrace?
- Connect the dots: globalization is in crisis and the crisis in education in the US is part of this crisis. the documentary does not make this connection. it seems to beat up on a dying horse.
- the 19th century education that produced the affluence of the 20th century may have peaked -- and what we are witnessing are its unintended consequences. the economic model is failing us. capitalism is producing severe social crisis.
- the crisis is perhaps not only social and economic but also ecological, spiritual crisis. how can they be separate? some even it call it a civilizational crisis.
- how do we re-imagine ourselves out of a crisis? how do we re-define what it means to be 'educated'? how do we re-imagine the American Dream that has turned into a nightmare for so many?
- the old escapegoats won't work.
- Guggenheim, a good bleeding heart liberal, offers his own mea culpa everytime he passes a failing urban public school on his way to drop off his kids to a private school. he wants to do good. he wants to save education. but i doubt that charter schools alone will save education; weakening teachers' unions won't cut it. putting money into education won't do it.
- we need more than Superman. Superman is dead and he is not coming back to life.


Sunday, October 24, 2010


This gravitational draw that holds us to the ground was once known as Eros -- as Desire! -- the lovelorn yearning of our body for the larger Body of Earth, and of the earth for us. The old affinity between gravity and desire remains evident, perhaps, when we say that we have fallen in love -- as though we were off-balance and tumbling through air, as though it was the steady pull of the planet that somehow lay behind the eros we feel toward another person. In this sense, gravity -- the mutual attraction between our body and the earth -- is the deep source of that more conscious delirium that draws us toward the presence of another person. Like the felt magnetism between two lovers,...the powerful attraction between the body and the earth offers sustenance and physical replenishment when it is consummated in contact. Although we've lately come to associate gravity with heaviness, and so to think of it as having a strictly downward vector, nonetheless something rises up into us from the solid earth whenever we're in contact with it. (Becoming Animal, David Abram, 27).
No wonder. My first instinct when I get home from work is to put my hands in the garden...

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

MG chatted with me on FB tonight and made me smile. she said that some young folks in newyork/newjersey asked her: "do you know leny strobel?" apparently they are thinking of designing a t-shirt "inspired by the work of leny strobel" and were inquiring about how to find me. i told MG to tell them to concentrate on the work and not the author but that am very happy to know that they are inspired.
on the same day, my mentor, Roshni, chided me for being too timid to talk about my work esp. the latest book. earlier in the day she was talking to a mutual friend and the friend said that she hasn't heard me talk about my latest book (and we just saw each other last week).
tomorrow am doing a lecture at SFSU at Prof P's class.
am not that timid.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Local community service

happy with the surge in interest from local community folks on how to re-envision, re-spirit, re-energize our Kapwa in this county. today, about a dozen folks gathered at Noemi's to brainstorm on how this might happen. before diving into the topic, we went through the creativity exercises that i borrowed from dear Mila. Mila calls these "raising babaylan consciousness" activities but i didn't use this term as i didn't want to confuse those who are not yet familiar with the term. the purpose of the activity was to introduce ourselves to each other while also identifying the qualities or values that made us proud to be Filipino. some of their answers: Masipag, mabait, maka-Diyos, malikhain, mapagmahal, masaya, matulungin, malakas, matiyaga, maganda ang kalooban, may paninindigan, at iba pa. they also said: we are family oriented; we value education; we are practical; we are resourceful, we are respectful.  from these answers, we asked ourselves: how then do we share these values in our community-at-large? how do we enlarge this circle? 
it was only from this point on that we were able to start brainstorming on how to address the issues in our community.
*the need for educational workshops and cultural programming
*how to invest in the youth
*how to bridge the different groups in the area
*how to improve the infrastructure and services of the community center
*how to inspire? basis of inspiration?
i liked the energy of the small group. i can tell that there is potential here.

my next project: becoming animal...
Adding Morris Berman.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

New CFBS video/footnotes

Karen Pennrich created this "Honoring Our Ancestors" video in honor of her sister, Aurelia Melgar, who passed away during the Babaylan Conference. Thank you, Karen.

I should mention, however, that Apu Mendung Sabal is a contemporary babaylan and she is not one of the women on the Spanish texts. I mentioned her in my talk because it was a privilege to have met her at the Kapwa conference in 08. She passed away shortly after the conference. She lived long enough to receive recognition as a National Treasure; she was also able to record her Tiboli chants and songs and taught them to Grace Nono and other culture bearers.

Re my mention of Mila Guerrero, historian from UP -- I met her in CA more than 15yrs ago during a conference and she told me this anecdote about babaylans being fed to crocodile. At that time, I hadn't realized the symbolic meaning of this detail (see link to March 14, 2010 below).

The opening ritual offering of Virgil Apostol is excerpted from the "Honoring Our Ancestors" (see March 14, 2010) event at Unity Church in Berkeley in Feb 2010. This event was organized by Lizae Reyes and the CFBS volunteers.

This video short honors Aurelia Melgar. Aurelia, Karen's sister, passed away during the Babaylan conference and so Karen was not able to attend the conference. We taped the video interview in March. Aurelia retired from Sonoma State University's Disability Services Office. She mentored many students of color and students with disabilities many of whom lovingly remembered her during her memorial service. Karen continues her sister's legacy as adviser of the Fil Am Students at SSU and as a board member of the FANHS Sonoma County Chapter.

Thank you, Karen!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Malidoma Some on Indigenous Technologies

Holding Our Power :
(Part II)

An Interview with

Malidoma Patrice Somé

Excerpt from SUN Magazine, August 1994
 D. Patrick Miller

Miller:  It seems to me that the modern world is interested in virtual reality, computer linkups, and high-speed electronic communication because it's trying to do a kind of soul traveling.

Malidoma:  That's right!  It wants to jump to "warp sped" and get there fast.  I'm watching what's going on with virtual reality and CD-ROM; the hidden spirituality of science is an attempt to return you to your ancestors.  It's a return to the primal way of living, where you are connected with the cosmos.  For now, it's represented by the telephone, the television -- tele means "contact from a distance."  The truth is, there's not much difference between you watching television and my grandfather sitting in his room watching a bunch of antelope eating in the field many miles away.

Miller:  Is virtual reality the only way the West can get back to this power?

Malidoma:  No, it's one of countless ways.  Right now, it's the fashionable way because you can meter it and bill for it.  This contrasts radically with the indigenous world.  People there don't measure how much time they spend connecting with the spirit world.  I don't think the West will be ready to connect with spirit until someone can find a way to bill for it.

Miller:  Why is the West obsessed with billing?  Is it simply a survival issue?

Malidoma:  Not really.  It has to do with accumulating power.  Some people think that if they get rich and powerful enough, they will jump right over to the other side of reality and be able to connect and be able to connect with the real power of the ancestors.  But this is just an illusion, an endless cycle of accumulation that doesn't get you any nearer the other side.
Miller:  In Western religious traditions we have long been convinced that the other side -- heaven, or paradise -- is very, very far away.  Thus, we think it must take a lot of money or power, or even suffering to get there.

Malidoma:  But it's not far away, really.  It's right here.  That's like thinking your shadow is very far away.  Actually you can never get away from it.

     When you believe that the other side is distant, you have to think about  transportation -- a means to get there.  You need interstate highways, airlines, shuttles in orbit.  You think about speed all the time to figure out the fastest way to get there.

Miller:  What are some ways to reestablish a more direct contact with the other side?

Malidoma:  It's not complicated.  You can go for a walk in nature and listen.  Someone asked me how to hear what nature was saying, and I told him, "Just go out there, put your hand into a creek, and pull out a stone and listen.  You'll hear something."

     The important thing is not to panic when you do start hearing something and don't know whether or not it's for real.  Give yourself the benefit of the doubt.  That is what most people fail to do.  They have a magical experience, and then they surround it with resistance, with questioning.  They will come to me and say, "I think I heard something, but I would like to know for sure."  I say, "What do you mean, for sure?"

     Let me tell you, that stone is for sure.

Miller:  When I sit beneath a tree and get some kind of feeling or message, the problem is that it's not verbal.  I am always struggling to use words to figure out what it means.

Malidoma:  You are trying to bring it into this world.

Miller:  But I can't be sure of what the tree is saying if I can't put it into words.

Malidoma:  When the message resists being put into words, it is very important to respect that.  There are many realities that die the moment they are wrapped in words.  Verbalization is a massacre of these realities, and that upsets the other realm.  That realm is asking you to recognize it by respecting its wordlessness.  Sooner or later, you'll realize that your experience by the tree constitutes an entirely different type of communication.  With practice you'll be able to enter that realm as comfortably as the worded world you are used to.

Miller:  When I look at the big addictions of our culture -- drugs, violence, money, sex -- they all appear to be thwarted forms of yearning.  It's as if addicts are trying to get to the other side through these substances and experiences.

Malidoma:  If only they could stop and look at the tree.  It's right there.  They could reclaim their right to get to the other side, instead of killing themselves slowly.

     The addict misses community.  He or she misses home, the village energy that makes one feel whole.  That's why people can't quit these things on their own; it's utterly impossible.  The overeater, the smoker, the alcoholic -- they are all using different means to communicate the same message:  "If you don't bring back my village, I might as well die."  People with addictions take in more and more of the same substance, imagining they can become their own village.  But it won't work.  They remain lonely individuals.

     We need to shift our point of view on this.  The addict is not having a personal problem; he or she is communicating a problem we all have.

Miller:  That makes sense when I think of our rise in violence and crime, and our approach to criminal justice.  We try to lock away all the people we regard as violent, as if their violence were strictly their own problem and responsibility, rather than our responsibility as a whole community.

Malidoma:  The driving force behind violence is twofold:  there is an absence of adequate community, and also an unanswered need for initiation.  Violence is a force that is trying to open up what I call an individual's "black box" -- all the information that was stored within a soul on its journey to earth.  Unless we recover that information, it's very difficult to know what our purpose is on this planet.  The individual will do anything and everything to open that black box.  Without a proper initiation, this drive can become a very wild energy with the power to kill other people as well as the person caught up in it.

     We want to put it away because it's scary.  But our fear should be a reminder that we're in the proximity of something magical, something very powerful.  Violence is an expression of the proximity of magic.

     A dysfunctional society instinctively suppresses magic.  That society locks up people who are violently trying to understand their own hidden purpose.  And it tends to treat illness in the same way:  "Just put it away.  Put it out of our sight."  The belief is that hiding the symptom will cure the illness.

Miller:  Does this explain why the death penalty is not an effective deterrent to violent crime?

Malidoma:  The energy of violence is not subject to death.  You can kill a container of that energy, but the energy goes on and finds another.  And there are so many containers available in a dysfunctional society!  We lay the blame on the container without studying what is contained.

Miller:  So how can our society understand its violence in a useful way?

Malidoma:  First, understand that it is a message about illness of the social body.  Then try to trace it to its source and go about making peace with that source.

Miller:  Some would say the source is racial and class discrimination, unfair distribution of resources and employment opportunities, and so forth.

Malidoma:  In a sense that's true because there is an industry of inequality that some people profit from, and they don't want to give up their profits.  It's the historical struggle between rich and poor.  But the underlying ailment is spiritual -- the disconnection from the ancestors and the spirit world.  Inequalities inevitably arise in a society that is alienated from the cosmos, from the grand scheme of things.

Miller:  So you're suggesting that we're too busy fighting each other to realize that the access to what we ultimately want is all around us.  We fight over little bits of power on this side of reality, when the power of the other side is immense.

Malidoma:  It's so huge we can't even fathom it.  But we cannot own it or control it; we can only serve it.  To do that one must constantly ask:  How humble am I when I approach power?  We must be careful not to overinflate our egos, because the West is a showoff culture.

     To hold on to power, you must guard against self-inflation or ego-tripping.  Constantly envision yourself as servant, not proprietor, of the powers around us all.  Honor their mystery.  And let them use you.


Saturday, October 2, 2010

The Day the Dancers Came: Redux

It felt like this to me the night Bayanihan Dance Co came to town recently.

In this neck of the woods, the center for the arts very rarely features any Philippines or Fil Am group. The last time was in the 90s when the Ramon Obusan Folkloric group came to the same stage. Naturally the local Filipino community was abuzz with excitement and they came to fill the venue.

They were thrilled and beaming with ethnic pride. One elderly matriarch even said: For the first time in my life, I feel proud of the Philippines! We know what the under-handed compliment means, don't we? Whether lamenting the local community's internal politics or listening to the network news about the latest scandal or latest catastrophe from the Philippines -- it all comes down to feeling somewhat embarrassed or ashamed about one's country of origin. But tonight there was something she could be proud of!

The day the dancers came to perform at our city's major arts center made the predominantly Filipino audience proud that we have this world class talent on stage. Never mind that during the pre-show interview with the group's directors, they stumbled on their words and sometimes gave the wrong facts (at least not very many noticed). Never mind that they didn't seem to understand the question and so the answer didn't seem coherent. (A friend said that the interview reminded her of the Venus Raj moment.). During the awkward moments of the interview, I wished that they were better prepared with answers. Their talent manager could have asked for a copy of the interview questions so they could have prepared a script for their answers. But all of this was quickly forgotten when the house lights went down and the dancing began. From one suite to the next, the hungry and thirsty audience was more than satisfied, some even mesmerized. On stage their beloved homeland was represented in dance, song, beautiful costumes, and beautiful women and handsome men -- satisfying their longing and homesickness.

Naturally, after the show, the community wanted to meet the dancers to say Salamat, to have Kodak moments. They heard that there was going to be a "meet and greet" time after the show and many lingered and waited. A small group who was privy to the instructions on how this was going to happen made its way to the stage where two white female docents were waiting. The docents were instructed to lead the 15 people on the list to a small room to meet some of the dancers for a brief 15minute meeting. But there were more than 15! The befuddled docents kept on insisting that there should only be 15 but the folks wouldn't budge. After a while, they relented and started to walk the group to a very small windowless room. The dancers obliged and posed. The folks got their souvenir photos.

I was on the list of 15 but there were six students from the university who wanted to be there so I  and others on the list gave up our slots to let the students have their time with the dancers. The docents told us that the reason for the brevity of the  meeting was because the dancers had to rest as they had to be back to the same stage the next day to perform for the schoolchildren of Sonoma County. Ah so....

But still. If the Bayanihan dancers are official cultural ambassadors of the Philippines, could they have arranged their schedule to include making time for connecting with their kababayans in a less hurried, less formal, less bureaucratic manner? What's with the stiffness of procedure? What's with the small windowless room? Okay, I get it. The group is managed by Columbia Artists Management, Inc. The group is on a tight schedule and who knows what other terms of contract they have to abide by.

Am I so naive to wish for the old ways of connecting? Ba-ya-ni-han spirit. We are a very friendly and happy people and we like to share this with the world said the two directors. I wish they had meant it that night.