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.