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 dwelling...is 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.