Thursday, October 17, 2013

Now you know why this blog hasn't been updated since the conference announcements. Here is the first CFBS publication edited by Lily Mendoza and myself. Beautiful cover art work by Perla Daly.

I hope you read it. It is a hefty book full of cutting edge indigenous theorizing and ethnoautobiographical narratives.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

CFBS Conference Flyer and Press Release


Second International Babaylan Conference in September

Occidental, CA – May 1, 2013 -- The Center for Babaylan Studies (CfBS) will host the Second International Babaylan Conference in September 27-29, 2013 at Westminster Woods, in Occidental, Northern California. Kidlat Tahimik, Datu Victorino Saway, Bai Liza Saway, Mamerto Tindongan, and Lane Wilcken, and others will present aspects of Filipino indigenous cultures seldom taught outside the Philippines. The conference will gather to honor those who continue to carry the rich legacy of Filipino indigenous knowledge systems and practices. This year’s conference theme is “Katutubong Binhi/Native Seeds: Myths and Stories that Feed our Indigenous Soul.”

The Babaylan in Filipino culture represents the figure of the indigenous healer. This sacred gathering of healers, artists, scholars, activists, performers, and other culture-bearers will share Babaylan-inspired work through story-telling, ritual, ceremony, dance, poetry, film, academic panels, conversations, and workshops.

Filipinos have a very rich spiritual and cultural heritage that is embedded in mythic stories and is carried forward by epic chanters, storytellers, babaylans, culture-bearers, and artists. The Babaylan conference will present a few of these stories through the sharing of Kidlat Tahimik, best known as the Father of Filipino “Indio-genius” filmmaking, Datu Vic and Bai Liza Saway of the Talaandig School of Living Tradition. Lane Wilcken, will share his extensive research on indigenous myths of the Philippines and the Pacific with the launching of his book, The Forgotten Children of Maui, at the conference. Mamerto Tindongan, a mumbaki from Ifugao, now living in Ohio, as a healer/artist, will share how his reclaiming of his people’s mythic roots have led him to do the healing work he is doing now in the diaspora. There will be small group workshops and talking circles that will address the conference theme.

Leny Strobel, Project Director and Professor of American Multicultural Studies at Sonoma State University, states that the second Babaylan conference’s focus on mythic stories is timely and relevant. “There is a growing realization in mainstream society,” Strobel explains, “that mythic stories carry the functional cosmology of our ancestors that enables their descendants to maintain and sustain core identities, provide a compass for navigating their connection to the Land, Sky, and Sea, and sustain their interconnectedness to all of creation, and all beings - human and non-human.”  The conference aims to renew an interest in the power of Filipino mythic stories and storytelling as a means of Wayfinding in these often difficult and confusing times.

These mythic stories are part of the Filipino Babaylan Tradition and incorporate Filipino indigenous knowledge systems and practices that continue to be followed today both in the homeland and in the diaspora. Conference information and registration can be found online at

The Center for Babaylan Studies was created after many years of research and conversations to continue the exploration and illumination of Babaylan indigenous wisdom and spirit as it facilitates our ongoing process of decolonization and indigenization – towards our Pagbabalikloob  and PagkaPilipino (Turning Towards Home). This will be the second international conference offered  by the Center.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

What does Grief feel like in your body? Is it a knot on your shoulder? A tender spot on your breast? A stiff muscle in your hamstring? Does it feel like water about to spill over into a fall? Is it the shallow and short breath?
Or is it mostly a tug of war with your thoughts. Maybe sadness is a state of mind? If meditation empties the mind, would your energy return? Will you feel happier?
Or is it a matter of honoring the grief? After all, your best friend's father just passed away. There is family grief that is unacknowledged. MAybe the ground beneath your feet is shifting and signaling that change is coming and you must be prepared.
Is the nightmare a good teacher? The dream said that the patriarchy will not give up easily. The shaman surrenders his body. But what does this mean? Who is the shaman?
I think the lesson is in how to see your body and your psyche as not separate from the enveloping air of the biosphere. How to do grow this consciousness? This is what I need.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Dear Ruth O

I am a Time Being. I suspect we've met in an earlier lifeTime but am not sure. Not yet, at least. Our encounter the other day was brief. Hi, we haven't met! you said as you sat at our table at the hotel dining room where a high tea in your honor was being held.

I went out of my way to see you that day. Paid $50 which I thought there wasn't much of a high to the tea but it was worth it anyway just to meet you. The tea sandwiches were mediocre and so was the service. The salad was wilted and I never understand the thin cucumber sandwich, potato salad sandwich, and egg salad sandwich - carbs on top of carbs. I didn't eat the bread. Instead I scraped the spoonful of filling and ate it with my fork. So indelicate of me when I am supposed to eat it with my fingers with my pinky raised just like those ladies who love high tea know how to do. When the dessert plate came, I ate the chocolate almond biscotti and took a bite out of the dry tasteless scones that were supposed to taste better with the raspberry sauce but there wasn't much of it to go around in a table for eight. They then served additional plates of more sweets -- chocolate truffles, chocolate wafers, chocolate drizzled sugar cookies and chocolate mints -- all from Trader Joes. They were hardly touched but I thought that maybe the high in tea meant high on sugar.

Anyway, I didn't mean to complain about the food. But I do want to write about the women on my table. Did you notice that we were the only Asians in the room? They were mostly white women in their fifties or older and I suspect most are JewBus. I'm only noticing the racial difference because every time I find myself in situations where I am the only brown face in a sea of white faces, I find myself feeling invisible.

I introduced myself to the women on my left and right. I asked them the usual polite questions. Have you read the book yet? How did you hear about her novels? But nothing ever came back to me. No one asked me my name nor where I'm from or what I do...anything that would signal an interest; even a feigned one would have been welcome.

When you said hello to me as you sat at our table, I said I have your book but haven't had it signed because I didn't want to line up. Then you asked for it. I said my name is L-e-n-y. You signed it with a Japanese symbol that I was sure I'd figure out as I read the book.

A woman at our table asked you about being a Buddhist nun and you were glad to talk about that part of your life which I really appreciated. I didn't know whether it was proper to ask what your Buddhist name is and you said Generous Heart  either in Chinese or Japanese - I couldn't quite guess by the sound of it. But how appropriate, I thought, because here you are with your open heart spilling over to mine.

Shortly after, the book event manager tapped you on the shoulder signaling that it was time for you to move to the next table. I'll never forget what you said about book tours being very much like Zen -- lots of sitting, waiting, leaving, going. Breathe in, breathe out. All the same.

The women at my table started talking about yoga as if it was a natural segue from Soto Zen. The two ladies traded remarks about the type of yoga they're into, how early they wake up in the morning to go to class. Yawn.

You made the rounds of four tables and then it was time for you to take the podium to read from Tale for a Time Being. I enjoyed the parts you read especially the voice of old Jiko speaking in Japanese. After reading for about fifteen minutes you took questions from the audience including mine asking about the footnotes and appendices as part of the novel's structure. Ah, a frustrated academic. I can relate to that. You also talked about doing research for the book which I also thought was a fascinating process.

At half past eight, it was time again for folks to buy the books and get them signed. I would have waited to say a few more words to you but instead I slipped through an exit and walked out into the crisp cold night air feeling relieved as if I had just escaped  a suffocating room of strangers.

I know I shouldn't see it this way. I could if I choose to, write a different script in my head about these circumstances. But it merely confirmed yet again why I don't have much of a social life. You said the same thing but you said it in the context of writing your novel. And here, I'm not even writing one and I say it because it is what it is and I wish it were otherwise.

At our table someone brought up writing fellowships (I think you did). Oh yes, you mentioned you met one of the women at our table at a master class at Hedgebrook. I said I had applied and never made it. You were so kind to say I shouldn't feel bad because Karen Jay Fowler didn't make it either. I don't know who she is but she must be well known, not just to me. I actually looked up Hedgebrook when I got home and looked up the master class workshops. Should I go? Do I dare call myself a writer? If I go, will it release the self-censoring voicee in my head? Will the ancestors visit me and give me dreams to guide me?

That night I finished the last 200 pages of the novel and turned off the lights at three in the morning. I probably sped read some parts but I slowed down to take in the lines that unravelled the plot in the most unexpected ways.

Oh, how I admire your ability to tell stories. I like the intersections of various themes from Buddhist teachings to transnationalism to critique of capitalism to looming enviromental disasters to the psychic violence of modernity to the trauma of war to the wisdom of old women to the angst or youth to those who abuse the weak to the power within that rises when coaxed by the sage of Time. Whew! that was a lot of ground to cover!

I've been thinking that the novel will never end if every reader writes a letter to an unknown reader and sends it out to the world. Except I am choosing to write to you. What if the millions of people who read your novel end up writing to you? For sure you will never read them all. Maybe the publisher will hire a reader and send out polite letters of acknowledgement and then that would be it.

But what if you had the superpower to reply to each letter. To this one? What would our book look like?

A sixty year old Filipina American at the crossroads searching for a clearer compass. An academic who has published three books on decolonization, indigenization and created a Center for Babaylan Studies, organized and directed Fulbright grants and conferences on indigenous spirituality -- now seeking clarity on how to become an elder. Yup, that's me.

I suppose I could have been my other sister who just turned 69 and decided to get a face lift as a birthday gift to herself. Vanity, thy name is woman, she says. She didn't want me to tell the other siblings in the Philippines because there's a bit of guilt perhaps when the other sibling is scraping the bottom of the pot to feed her large family. No, that's not me.

I stopped coloring my hair a year ago. I notice you don't color yours either. I like my salt and pepper hair now. The older sister didn't approve but we just let each other be pretty much otherwise sisterhood will be too cumbersome.

Anyway, as I was saying at the beginning about this high tea event - this was the highlight of my spring break, you know. I doubt that I would have made it during teaching days because am usually too tired by Wednesday night and it takes all of Thursday and Friday to recover form the grind of teaching. So be lucky that you are not an academic with tenure because you could be saddled with department chair duties like I am and checking seventy three-page papers over the weekend. These are undergrads taking their required ethnic studies course and believe me, many of them don't know how to read a text closely anymore. They try to wing it by using a lot of what I call fluffy sentences  - the kind that you can fill a paragraph or two without saying anything substantial. How can that be? How did we lose these kids to an American education?

I am thinking of assigning your novel as a text but am afraid they can't handle 400 pages. This semester they are reading two short memoirs and a book of short essays and not all of them bought the books. They take notes in class during lecture and discussion and take just enough information to use in their papers. I could go on and on about how I have dumbed down my syllabus since the start of my teaching fifteen years ago but that would bore you to tears. And you probably already know the story.

I have to stop writing now. Maybe I'll post this somewhere where it might reach you. I don't know.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Books by the bed:

Spirit and Reason, Vine Deloria, Jr.
Untie the Strong Woman, Clarissa PInkola Estes
Shamanism, Colonialism and the Wild Man, Michael Taussig
White Tiger, A Adiga
Wisdom Sits in Places, Keith Basso
Native Science, Greg Cajete
The Spirit of NAtive America, Anna Lee Walters
The Essential Rumi
Alternate Contact

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Strategic Indigeneity and the Possibility of a Global Indigenous Women's Movement


In nation-states where public mandate, official decree, and/or cultural hegemony have established majority biological groups and cultures as sanctioned heir to legal authority, or where repressive regimes threaten to crush ethnic minorities perceived threatening to national agendas, claiming indigeneity on the international level may be the only possibility for ensuring continuity of a people or generating governmental recognition of their right to do so. [21] Despite its treatment as a "fixed entity" in legal codes, culture is not a static entity. Efforts to pin cultural groups to a particular notion of kinship, biology, or traditional practice will inevitably fail since a culture in flux cannot forever demonstrate 'authenticity' or loyalty to a particular cultural complex which might represent a transitional moment. [22]

Like culture, languages too are shifting, historically contingent, and cannot be conceptualized or accurately represented on a one-one correspondence with either ethnic groups or geographical locales. [23] Nevertheless, indigenous activists and nationalist ideologues alike have called up language as the definitive cultural practice which separates neighboring ethnic groups or materially similar cultures from one another. Despite linguistic anthropologists' most ardent assertions that one-one correspondences are historically unsupportable, that the majority of ethnic groups historically (and contemporarily) were multilingual, contemporary debates rely on the myth of a one-language-one-culture-one-ethnicity model. But for peoples claiming indigeneity, there is political utility in the project of claiming such an essence. Although progress has been slow, the international movement for recognition of indigenous peoples' rights and the increasing commitment to cultural survival has enabled many small-scale societies and indigenous communities to contest their government's forced assimilation initiatives.

Along with social scientists in general, anthropologists have been criticized as among the worst offenders in labeling indigenous revitalization and resistance movements as "strategic essentialism." [26] While the concept of "strategic indigeneity" represents exciting new possibilities for epistemology and social science theory, the potential resonances for native communities can be devastating. [27] When used as a theoretical concept, "strategic indigeneity" is employed to index the constructed nature of revitalized cultural practices and native spirituality as "reinvented traditions"—as new kinds of syncretic practices, blending traditional lifeways with contemporary spiritual needs. [28] As theoretical expressions, terms such as "strategic indigeneity" and "reinvented traditions" are analytical constructs designed to highlight the creativity and innovation of indigenous peoples in struggling to retain a sense of cultural identity despite historical pressure to assimilate, and in the face of tremendous discrimination against indigenous populations, both de jure and de facto. Although scholars often have little control over research results once they are disseminated, they are obligated to their host communities to ensure that research findings and theoretical production do not endanger the vulnerable populations who have generously hosted them in the first place. Most importantly, scholars should be wary that their analyses of indigenous communities can have more impact on government at all levels, and on policy-making in general, than materials or analyses produced locally by community members or by indigenous peoples themselves. [29]

Andrea Smith employs an innovative, liberatory methodology to explore indigenous women's theory and interpretations of feminism and its possibilities as a movement among native women in the US (including Hawai'ians and Pacific Islanders). She criticizes the reifying, essentializing tendency of non-native women's analysis of native women's concerns, and proposes her intervention as a counter-ethnography of native women's activist theorizing and activism. [58] According to Smith, one of the most debilitating aspects of the available material on native women's discussions of feminism is its limited and homogenizing representation of native women's views as solitary and unified. Few serious treatments of native women's discussions of feminism have been published, and these tend to lump native women as either "assimilationist" and therefore concerned with civil rights questions, or as radical native sovereigntist and therefore concerned primarily with decolonization and sovereignty projects, rather than the vast and uncharted continuum in between where most native women's perspectives fall. Jaimes' article represents an important intervention into a debate where few native women had the access or resources to publish their arguments, but Smith cautions that Jaimes represents only one view. [59] Unfortunately the perspectives available to non-native women who have not spent significant time in native communities are few: concerns tend to be articulated very differently according to the audience, and thus each organization [60]will propose a very different platform for action depending upon the context.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Who's Afraid of "Decolonization?"

Had a long conversation with a community leader who recently discovered the works of Ver Enriquez and Sikolohiyang Pilipino and the trail led her to my books. She was very excited and passionate about her desire to change the consciousness of Filipino immigrants and Filipino Americans who are not proud of being Filipino, ashamed, and unaware of the pride they should have in being Filipino.

She has started several campaigns to change this. She is working with youth who are savvy with social media about culture-bearing art; she is teaching youth social entrepreneurial skills; and she also wants them "give back to the motherland" to help her rise up from poverty. She wants the Filipinos in the US to be successful Americans so they can fulfill this vision of "giving back."

She believes that the way to do this is to introduce the concepts of Sikolohiyang Pilipino by popularizing them and without using language that is critical of the U.S. because she said: Filipinos who feel they are much better off in the US than back home are thankful and don't want to "bite the hand that feeds them."  Because of this, she doesn't want to use the word "decolonization" because, one, it is too academic-sounding and, two, it sounds negative. She said she wants to lead the folks gently by starting with something less threatening, e.g., emphasizing the beauty of the Philippines and the beauty of the people via cultural tours. By giving them something positive to identify with, then they may be willing to listen more.

I love this kind of passion and strategic planning and the vision of transforming an entire diasporic community using the dissemination of knowledge about Filipino indigenous values.

However, if the end goal of transformation is to "become successful Filipinos in America so they can help the poor in the Philippines" -- then this needs to be analyzed further.

I told her that indigenous values are the opposite of materialist values of the US/modern capitalist system. How can we advocate for indigenous values and materialist values at the same time? Too often well-intentioned folks talk about "having the best of both worlds" but is this really possible? Can the earth-destroying values of modern capitalism and consumerism be compatible with the earth-sustaining vision of indigenous peoples?

Here I am digressing into philosophical musings of an academic mind again. But let me repeat - I appreciate the efforts to help Filipino immigrants and Fil Ams become more proud of their ethnic and cultural heritage. This is indeed important and necessary and Sikolohiyang Pilipino discourse is very liberating and transformative towards this end.

In my own experience, my appreciation of Filipino indigenous values led me to a deepening awareness of the shadow materials of modernity. These shadow materials are the imperial and colonial projections and  master narratives that caused our sense of inferiority and shame.  This is why the work of decolonization requires a critique of America as empire. The process of decolonization cannot endorse complicity in the continuing colonization of the earth's resources and peoples in the name of "progress or development."

This learning led me to create work that will help us heal from colonial trauma through grief work. It led me to the challenge of learning how to dwell in Places (see previous blog post). It led me to change the way I live, how I spend my money, how I spend my time. This is a radical shift from my former life. In this former life, I, too, had the desire to show off that I have made it in the USA through the visible manifestations of success -- the houses, the cars, the blings, the cruises, etc.  But I was captivated by the alluring Beauty of Filipino indigenous core values and it led me to a different path. The growing community of the Center for Babaylan Studies embraces this different path.

But back to the real need to address poverty in the homeland. I've been reading Boy Montelibano's columns for years and one of the recurring themes in his columns has to do with the potential of the Fil Am community to truly be the saving grace of the suffering homeland. In his columns, Boy often referred to this unfulfilled potential because, in his observation, Fil Ams haven't quite gotten hold of their cultural pride. Without cultural pride, resources do not flow. That makes sense.

I admire folks like the community leader and Boy Montelibano and anyone that wants to spread the good news about Filipinos.  I also admire the good intentions of campaigns and programs to do something about poverty. But right now I think of Helena Norberg's Hodge's words in "Schooling the World": poverty was created by the values of modernity so how can we say that a modern education that prepares the student to become a participant in an urban global consumer culture is a good thing?.

If I am to add my two cents worth to this vision, I want to pose questions that stretch our thinking beyond the paradigm of modernity and development. I want to ask how creating large carbon footprints through our affluent consumer lifestyles in the US contribute to the decimation of natural resources in places where the US extracts these resources including in the Philippines (oil, mining, etc). Does the depletion of the environment in the Philippines through export-led enterprises create sustainability and alleviate poverty? The global economic engine leaves no stone unturned in exploiting resources (both physical and cultural resources). Often I also wonder how marketing and commerce enter into the process of commodifying ethnicity and indigeneity.  Are these questions already being asked and I just haven't heard? Sometimes being away from the  trenches of community work also keeps me away from community discourses.

The community leader said that their campaigns need the support and endorsement of scholars (moi?) to lend credibility to their efforts. This is very humbling and am grateful for the invitation. Let the dialogue begin.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Why we greet each other with Taga-Saan Ka sa Atin?

NVM Gonzalez always wrote about places. Places whose names, if we remember, will always keep us anchored to a sense of belonging and identity. I still remember his writing about Pinamalayan, about Mindoro. I remember his lightness of being. I remember wanting to be like him.  I am revisiting this memory and it tugs at my heart.

When Filipinos meet each other, we say: taga-saan ka sa atin? What are we really asking? We are asking about our connection to Place - trying to sense a connection to each other via the places we come from. We are trying to find a connection to each other via what we remember of those places, of what we have made of those places, what we have made of ourselves.

In my dreams, San Fernando, Pampanga, continues to stalk me. I dream of the floods and the constructions of infrastructure that has changed the face of the land. In these dreams someone always makes a road for me so I could drive across the mud and water.

Or I take note of the many place-based community organizations - Fernandinos, Minalenans, Aklanons, etc. Or what about the photographs of signs when we go on balikbayan trips -- all markers of places.

But I no longer dwell in those places. To dwell in a place is to have a lived relationship with that place so that the place eventually acquires meaning. To dwell in a place is to have an object of awareness that focuses our thought, quickens our emotion, and gives us a robust experience. To sense a place is an aspect of to dwell on aspects of ourselves and our identities.

Places animate the ideas and feelings of persons who attend to them. The physical landscape become wedded to the landscape of the mind, to the roving imagination. This interanimation of the attentive subject and geographical object generate fields of meaning that gives rise to aesthetic immediacies, their shifting moods and relevancies, their character and spirit.

Relationships to places are lived in the company of other people and when places are sensed together that native view of the physical world become accessible even to strangers. Relationships to places can also find expression in myth, prayer, music, dance, art, architecture and other forms of religious and political ritual. This way places are woven into the fabric of social life, anchored in landscape and blanketed with layers of significance.

In reading Keith Basso's Wisdom Sits in Places (which I quote above), the sad realization that came to me is that I wasn't taught to dwell in Pampanga or in the Philippines. So many of us weren't, maybe all of us. It was the modernizing era and we were taught and inspired to leave the homeland. In our leaving, we became nostalgic for the places that left their mark in our beings. I've pursued my nostalgia with annual trips back to San Fernando. But something has changed recently.

In my dream, the person who symbolized San Fernando for me has turned into a tree. He is no longer the lover that I pursue in my dreams, but an ancient tree with thick dark bark for skin.

Slowly I became aware that I haven't really dwelt in Santa Rosa, California where I have lived for thirty years.  This is a relationship that needs to change. I began to look around this valley and its trees, creek, crows, hummingbirds, hawks, willows. In my walks around the neighborhood and around the lake, I nurse the desire to get to know the names of all that dwell here.

In doing so, I am sensing a new me. The ideas in my head about ecological awareness, sustainability, earth-based spirituality, indigeneity -- are all being transformed into habits, into ways of being that grounds me in this place.  This place that is not United States nor California nor Santa Rosa but Pomo, Coast Miwok, Wappo, and so on.

I have been welcomed here. Perhaps this change of heart, this way of developing a lived relationship to Place is what is being asked of us by the indigenous peoples of the lands we find ourselves in as diasporic people. What does it mean to share this Place with its native folks? What does it take to get outside our heads and walk these places instead? To walk. To dwell.

Taga-saan ka sa atin? is a question of immanence. Where have you been and where are you now? Questions so pregnant and fecund for all my dwelling days to contemplate.