I've been heavy on the research lately and have been away from blogging for sometime. I owe many thanks to OCAD's Dr. Soyang Park who has enriched my knowledge of contemporary Asian art and has inspired me to push on with my own project.
Things that have been of interest lately:
1) Manuel Ocampo: US/Pinoy transgressive artist who reached acclaim in the 80's when California was promoting multiculturalism. Ocampo's work deals with post-colonial trauma, religion, sex, violence and host of other goodies that are noteworthy.
2) Mariko Mori: Japanese digital artist who creates sci-fi self-portraits. Her images seem to capture Orientalist stereotypes of an ultra modern Japan, but do they facilitate further discussion or are they propogating negative asssumptions of the Japan?
3) Hou Hanru: Chinese curator of a slew of exciting international Bienniales and "Cities on the Move" which explored themes of "multi-modernity", "diaspora" and "glocalism". The touring show highlighted the dynamic nature of Asian cities and exhibited work from a number of exciting asian artists from around the world including Bul Lee, Guo-Qiag Cai, Chen Zhen, Soo-Ja Kim, Rirkrit Tiravanija, Surasi Kusolwong, Judy Freya Sibayan and Canada's own Ken Lum.
4) US/Korean Niki Lee who photographs herself in the process of immigrant assimilation. She starts projects where she tries to fit into a variety of American subcultures like skateboarders, hispanics, yuppies, etc. She will immitate and befriend people in these groups, and create a repore for several months and have herself candidly photographed through this process by the people in her "project group". She highlights aspects of hybridization in her work and records the immigrant's gaze of diasporic groups that are seeking to become "All-American".
For now, I am gearing up for the holiday festivities and hope to get back to my art in the new year re-energized and inspired!
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Confession: Juggling is difficult
I’ve had more productive days, correction weeks. In the month since the last blog, I’ve mastered the art of starting things without actually finishing them. There are three other blog entries in various stages of completion sitting in digital limbo waiting to be posted. I’m halfway through uploading my last two series of paintings online and I have an incomplete canvas taunting me as I type. I won’t bother elaborating on my “To Do” lists which have grown so long they made their way into an occasional nightmare. Things are in flux. I feel out of control.
The perpetual juggler that I am, I usually thrive off the adrenaline of keeping as many balls flying as I can. It’s just that my eyes are a bit tired, my hands are sore, and right now I can’t keep track of what’s going up or coming down.
As the summer ends, I will claim this new season as one of change. May the days of frustrating procrastination fall. May the shackles of negativity fall. May this creative constipation fall! Fall! Fall! Fall!
I need a plan.
The plan: Stay positive, stay motivated, keep juggling
The good news is, I haven’t dropped any balls yet. Almost, but not yet. Things I have completed include an online article about the parallels between transnationalism and digital art—the piece has been accepted for publication at www.lepanoptique.com
, an online journal covering current events with an academic twist. I had a successful exhibit with Kultura and several of my paintings are still on display at the Kapisanan Philippine Centre in Toronto. I will also be a part of a group show at the Hangman Gallery on Queen East (Toronto) for the annual Nuite Blanche, an all-night art event inspired by the happening in Paris. But what to do about staying motivated?
It’s funny where one can find that extra boost to keep on with the circus act. Today it came from a Chinese parable I heard at Kung Fu class. Thank you Sifu ;)
The parable: A Wushu student and his master were walking by the river when they came across a hungry fox chasing a tired rabbit. Noticing the student’s interest in the animals, the master stopped and asked the student, “Of the two beasts, who do you think will succeed?”
The student, taken aback by the question, answered, “The winner of this chase will surely be the fox.”
“Really? Why are you so sure?”
“Well master, the fox is bigger, smarter, quicker and stronger than the rabbit. The rabbit is feeble. The rabbit can’t do anything that the fox can’t do better. The fox will succeed.”
“Hmmm,” said the master. “You are right. The fox is indeed bigger, smarter, quicker and stronger than the rabbit. But the rabbit possesses one thing that the fox doesn’t and this can make all the difference.”
“What is this special thing master?”
“Yes,” said the master. “You see, the fox is running for his lunch, but the rabbit is running for his life. This difference in motivation outweighs size, intelligence, speed and strength. I think the rabbit will succeed.”
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Last night I rented a DVD from Suspect Video about Canadian identity. Based on a 2002 Douglas Coupland novel under the same name, Souvenir of Canada
documented the creation of Coupland’s Canada House. Canada House was a temporary exhibit of Canadian identity art set in a CMHC (Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation) House that was painted gallery white, from floor to window to ceiling. Pieces in the Canada House included large scale images of the Canadarm, a used sock of Terry Fox, sculptures of the Canada goose, cigarette warning labels, stubbys, and of course an assorted array of hockey paraphernalia. The purpose of the exhibit was to create something “that only Canadians would get.”
Coupland, made famous for coining the term “Generation X” in his 1991 novel Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture
, is yet another example of a Canadian who had to leave Canada to get acclaim. His story begins in Vancouver where he grew up in the waspy, upper/middle-class suburbia of the 1970’s. Being an artist in a family whose interests were more focused on game hunting and hockey, Coupland was the black sheep. After high school, Coupland went to McGill to study medicine which pleased his parents immensely. Coupland left McGill shortly after to return home and go to art school. This did not please his parents. The story goes on... Coupland works odd jobs around Canada, has no success in his art, he goes to California, has big success with his book, has freedom to live and travel around the world and ultimately decides to return to Vancouver. Everyone is happy. Another tale of great Canadian success.
I can relate to Coupland’s story. I too left home to study at McGill. I too was from a creatively-challenged family whose parents and sibling held views of the world that were very different than my own. If it wasn’t for the unquestionable physical similarities, I would have sworn I was adopted. Like Coupland, I dropped out of an early med school trajectory at McGill and returned home with my tail between my legs. Instead of studying at the Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design, I followed my creative calling at the Ontario College of Art and Design. This is where my part of the story is still waiting to be unraveled. Time will only tell if Canada wants to hear the Fil-Can tale.
Watching Souvenir of Canada, which was just as much about Coupland’s life as it was about Canadian identity, I found myself relating to him in someway and in other ways saying to myself, hey wait a minute you forgot some parts! This is because my Souvenirs of Canada
would most likely be a bit different than Coupland's. I grew up ten years later in Toronto and my home didn’t look like Coupland’s Leave it to Beaver
suburbia. That said, the Diosos were no less Canadian. We were Filipino-Canadian. My mother didn’t stock her cupboards with Premium Plus crackers and canned tomato soup and cook wonderful recipe dinners at 6:00pm everyday. Both my parents worked till 8:00, sometimes 9:00, and at ten years old I would take my sister from Etobicoke to Bloor and Yonge subway station to my mom’s office where we would wait for her to finish work. After, we would all meet my father and have Swiss Chalet, or a pizza or McDonalds. Nights ended at 11:00 or 12:00. My father wasn’t a doctor who flew planes in national parks on the weekends. He was an accountant for an California car additives company who used to love playing basketball and later switched to softball when I first got accepted to the Bramalea Rep Team. My parents didn’t retire on an expansive cattle farm. They retired in a 2 bedroom condominium on Yonge Street, and currently live with their son and daughter-in-law.
My Canada House would of course have hockey sticks and images of wilderness like Coupland’s, but it would also have ramen noodle packs in the kitchen along with the Kraft Dinner. There would be Wonderbread sandwiches with chicken wieners, ketchup, mayo and pickles in the fridge. In the freezer, there would be a bag of Ontario peas and three dozen sweet longonizas. A plate of Swiss Chalet leftovers with fresh rice and a can of coke would be ready at the table with a spoon and a fork. The clock would always read 10:00pm, as that was the family-bonding-dinner time. There would be Chinatown lychees and cantaloupes ready for dessert, and the television would be playing a loop of Archie Bunker epsiodes. The walls would have pictures of Filipino summer picnics with fifty newly immigrated Pinoys trying to re-create ‘home’ in those short months when Canada held temperatures that were similar to the Philippines. The pictures would show large group shots in front of picnic tables of food - sliced watermelon , skewers of shaved pork, a 'lechon' on waxed paper with an apple in it’s mouth and skin picked at, plates of 'lumpia shanghai' and 'pancit', large boats of white rice, and a mango cake with butter icing in the shape of Big Bird served on Styrofoam plates. There would be ‘capis’ lamps on either side of a plush pink Leon’s sofa and butts of Rothman's Regulars in the 'kamagong' ashtray. There would be a redbrick fireplace that was used only once and above it a shield of all the Philippine tribes of Luzon. The basement would be a mess, storing broken toys, old 'balikbayan' boxes and a hundered pieces of an incomplete chandelier brought over from Lola Nene's basement in San Pablo. There would be a kid’s room that had Transformers and Lego and the toxic plastic blow bubbles that were illegal in Canada and smuggled in as ‘pasalubongs'. There would be half empty bags of microwave popcorn, Planetrs peanuts and 'chicken adobo' flavoured Crackernuts strewn on the floor. This is my Canada House.
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Only in the Philippines can you find 1,500 orange-clad inmates doing a choreographed dance to the music of Michael Jackson. Please click below to see the boys of the Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center do their thang!http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hMnk7lh9 ... ler%2Ehtml
"Thriller" on youtube, thanks for the link Phil!
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The Paglaum girls of Bacolod
An Inspiring Story from Paglaum girls of Bacolod forwarded to me from Rose Dioso Source: Philippine Daily Inquirer July 2006
NOW for a bit of good, positive news for a change.
Paying a courtesy call Thursday on President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo at Malacanang were the members of the victorious Bacolod team that emerged as champions in the recent World Series Junior Girls
Softball championship in Kirkland, Washington, United States.
After the girls showed her their victory banner and presented her with an honorary team jacket, the President handed the girls from Paglaum (a village on the outskirts of Bacolod) a check for one
million pesos, an incentive for their winning performance.
A newspaper report says the team's 2-0 victory over Puerto Rico in the title match "gave the Philippines its first World Series crown since 1992 when a team from Zamboanga was stripped of the crown it won in Pennsylvania" on allegations of fielding over-aged and unqualified players. The girls' victory, then, was not just a great honor for the country, but also a vindication of Filipino honor and pride.
Beyond that, though, the team's victory is a real "Cinderella" story, a fascinating tale of how girls from a small town overcame the odds and showed the world what they're made of.
THE GIRLS, from 12 to 14 years of age, come from Paglaum, a small
village on the outskirts of Bacolod, and belong to farming families, their parents working in the sugar cane fields or else engaged in fishing and rice and coconut farming. Rufino Ignacio, one of the pino-Americans in Washington who played host to the team, says the girls brought pictures of their nipa huts and the dilapidated remises of the Paglaum Village National High School.
As Ignacio tells it, the team almost didn't make the trip for lack of
money for their plane fare. Funds raised by their sponsors, including Little League Philippines and politicians and business people in Negros, were not enough for their needs. So as a last ditch effort, the team's coach and the school principal took out a loan for 100,000 pesos, though perhaps the President's check should now ease their anxieties somewhat.
Upon arrival in the US, the girls and their coach stayed with a host
family, the Shannons, all of them crowded into the Shannons' modest
home, although once the tournament began, the USA Little League housed them in a hotel. But they faced more than logistical challenges. Ignacio describes the Paglaum girls as the "smallest" among all the players in the tournament, who were "heftier and taller and from their looks, stronger."
Despite their physical disadvantages, however, the young Pinays became
the "darling of the crowd," racking up a "very impressive record" and
winning everyone's admiration for their "discipline and decorum."
THE STORY of the Paglaum girls, though, is also the story of how the
entire Filipino-American community in the area came together to lend their moral, physical and financial support for the plucky team.
Fil-Ams from as far as Oregon and British Columbia came in droves to
cheer on the Paglaum girls. The Ilonggos Northwest Association, the Filipino Community of Seattle, and a regional Fil-Am association, the FACSPS, combined resources to make the girls feel welcome.
The FACSPS, headed by Ignacio, gathered used clothing, shoes, toiletries, canned goods and other items and packed them in balikbayan boxes for the girls to take home to their families.
"As the team is not used to eating bread in the hotel, the Ilonggos and FACSPS prepared food for them, potluck style, and the team heartily ate with other Filipinos after each game," recounts Ignacio. "The girls said they had the best meals in their young lives during the tournament."
Ignacio notes that the Paglaum girls left the Philippines with "no
money, hardly noticed, and thinking perhaps they had nochance of winning." But now, they have returned as heroes, or rather, as
Everyone loves an underdog, but victorious underdogs are loved even
more. This is one "Cinderella story" that deserves to be told and retold.
Its only when you share your life to others that life begins to have a
meaning and purpose ... the time you touch the life of others is the
time you really live.
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Book Launches and Brainstorms
The term Balikbayan
refers to Philippine nationals who reside permanently outside of the Philippines. I was born in Canada and hold only a Canadian passport. The first time I entered the Philippines in 2002, I was stamped entry as a foreigner. I didn’t think twice. According to official immigration status, I am not Filipino. I am Canadian.
The second time I entered the Philippines, three months later, the customs officer asked me the routine questions about the length of stay and purpose of visit. In my accent free English, I told him that I was Filipino-Canadian and had intentions to marry my French-Canadian fiancée in the country of my parental roots. That day, I was stamped in as a Balikbayan
. I think of this event more and more as I delve further into my exploration of the Filipino-Toronto community and as a result into my own identity. I am a Filipino-Canadian in Canada. I am a Canadian in France, Japan and any other country outside of Canada. But I am a Balikbayan
(sometimes) in the Philippines. I like Filipino food, but I am a vegetarian. I can barely speak Tagalog, but my "native speaker" fluency in English has allowed me to teach and travel in Asia and Europe. What defines nationhood for those of us who have equally strong ties with more than one country?
Last week I was discussing issues of identity with members of the Kapisanan Philippine Centre-- a cultural and artistic centre focusing on the needs of second-generation Filipinos, youths and newcomers to the Toronto community. Things discussed were: methods of expression for the community, the idea of cultural shame, history, education, the police killing of Jeffrey Reodica, and the split between the needs of second generation Filipinos, those of their parents and those of newly arrived immigrants.
The sense I was getting, was that although Toronto is home to the largest Filipino community in Canada (population of 150,000 according to Statistics Canada), community cohesiveness is scattered. When team Italy won the Fifa World Cup in 2006, there was no shortage of Italian flag-waving or people with faces painted in red, white and green. In a 2001 survey by Statistics Canada, predicting immigration patterns into 2017, the Italian community did not make the list, yet the current visual presence of the community on Toronto's landscape is unquestionable. Pockets around the city from St. Clair and Bathurst, Vaughn and Corso Italia on College have become ingrained in Toronto’s identity. I find myself questioning where is "Little Philippines" or why can’t I remember the last time the Philippine flag was waved down Yonge Street. Would my fellow Torontonians even know what one looked like? Is it because we don’t play soccer? Could be. Is it because the Philippine community is relatively newly arrived? Probably not.
The newly arrived Toronto Hindu community (population of 191, 305) boasts the publicized erection of a ‘remarkable marvel of architecture’, a stone carved temple on HWY 427 and Finch Ave. According to Toronto Star’s Urban Affair Columnist, Christopher Hume, “the local Hindu community, which paid for the $40 million building without any public or foundation funding and provided 400 volunteer workers, wants the world to know it has arrived…(and) there is no chance its presence will go unnoticed.” Although considered a “new immigrant community”, Filipino immigration to Canada started in 1931 and has been peaking since the seventies with the Family Reunification Program and further in the eighties with the Live-in Caregiver Program. So why is it that this particular community has had such a meek presence on the visual landscape of Toronto?
On the evening of July 12, in a small hall at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE), a modest reception was held to launch two seminal studies that have been recently made on the Filipino community. The first being “Filipinos in Canada: Economic Dimensions of Immigration and Settlement”, a report by York University’s Dr. Philip Kelly who used government data from censuses and immigration statistics to create a portrait of the Philippine community. Some conclusions Kelly made were that although the community comes to Canada relatively well-prepared (specifically in education and language proficiency) with expectations that they will do quite well, the reality is that upon arrival, the job market and prospective futures of Filipino immigrants are limited. He also mentioned that the Philippine community hasn’t had the political voice to assert itself proportionate to its numbers.
Milla Astorga-Garcia’s study “The Road to Empowerment in the Filipino Community: Moving from Crisis to Community Capacity Building”, documents the killing of 17 year old Filipino Jeffrey Reodica in 2004, and how the event helped to unite the community. Astorga-Garcia’s documents and references community events and organizations such as the Justice for Jeffrey campaign and Community Alliance for Social Justice (CASJ). But more importantly, Astorga-Garcia has come to represent a voice in the Filipino-Canadian community who is calling for community cohesion.
I am a part of the Filipino-Canadian community. I am also a government-funded digital artist whose work pertains to the Filipino-Toronto community. As I start this project I find myself questioning, reflecting and brainstorming on all the possible angles that I could/should take. What is the Filipino-Toronto community? How is it best visually represented? Is it different from other transnational communities and if so how or why? Furthermore how can digital art be used as a vehicle for expression and representation for this community?
I have just been asked to write an article for the online journal www.panoptique.com
where some of these questions regarding digital art and the transnational community will be addressed. Please stay tuned. ;)
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Below is an email from an old friend and shining light. Thank you Eoghan and keep up the good fight ;) Mon, 2 Jul 2007 01:48:48 -0600, Eoghan Moriarty wrote:
On our nation's day let us not forget:
That sovereignty like freedom possesses an
Most spoken of covetously and yearningly
After its somehow impossible demise.
The corporatocracy that animates the thin veneer
of shiny wool
That drapes resplendant, fat and marvelous, over
our Etch A Sketch consciences.
Laughs deeply, resoundingly from within their
Far beyond the reach of mere mortals protected by
the full power and
apparatus of the state.
While the walls of the cage steadily retract
vanquishing personal freedoms
Given up unbeknownst to their dimwitted owners .
It is not enough to say that Canada will never be
like the USA.
Worldwide there is no distinction between the 2.
And soon there will be no difference whatsoever.
Only zero control over our own sovereignty,
resources and security.
Under terms of NAFTA, the USA can extract bulk
water resources from
Canada if it is deemed a national security
concern. Do some research
on shrinking water resources in the US and you
will learn just how
incredibly desperate the US is for water.
The US Northern Command is already in control of
security for the
entire continent and has been for years. Does
this not worry anyone?
Look at our "Nation Building" exercise in
For our population we have the equivalent of
25000 US soldiers serving there.
There is no difference between Afghanistan and
NATO has become an offensive force worldwide.
Deploying ABMs on Russia's west flank
antagonizing the world's largest
Our governments collectively sold our nation to
our big, bully of a
neighbor for nothing more than personal gain.
1) Free Trade Agreement
2) North America Free Trade Agreement
And finally, initiated & implemented by Paul
Martin's Liberals and
continued behind the scenes by our wee Yankee lad
Harper the next
irrevocable step in the process of "Deep
3) Security and Prosperity Partnership Of North
This minor soon to be forgotten fuss over the No
Fly List is but a
taste of the last gasps of our sovereignty being
absorbed into the US.
Look at Atlantica on the east coast.
The average person in the Atlantic provinces will
benefit from deeper
integration with the NE USA?
The music has already stopped and there are no
chairs for us.
And somehow we're toiling away in our basement
cleaning up after the
partywe were not even allowed to attend wondering
What about the plans for the Amero?
Who stands to benefit the most from an
amalgamation of the 3 currencies?
Who is the most indebted country on Earth?
And who has no intention whatsoever of repaying
The Israeli company that is building the wall in
Palestine got the
contract for building the barrier between the US
The SPP was created from a framework developed by
the CEOs of the
largest companies in North America whose mandate
was to make their
lives as easy and profitable as possible and
specifically to benefit
the US most of all.
How come there has been no mention of the SPP in
Who are we kidding? The only real objective media
left is the alternative one.
Huge changes need to be made.
But our politicians have no intention of rocking
Our only option is to get educated and bide our
Its a good thing that any kind of political
demonstration can treated
as a terrorist act, no? You have to admit that
the entire slide into
fascism has been a master work of propaganda and
Goebbels would have been proud.
Wake up and shrug off tinsel town.
Get educated about what is going on.
Check out these websites:www.globalresearch.cawww.canadianactionparty.cawww.democracynow.orgwww.freepress.netwww.bandepleteduranium.org
Google Ron Paul and see the power of a real
campaign by someone who has real answers for
Check out the Canadian Action Party.
I could go on for day and days.
But I wouldn't read it either.
Canada is an incredible country.
Part of what makes it great is the distinction
between the USA and us.
We will never get back the good will of the world
and strangely will
wonder why people hate us because of our freedom?
Being a proud Canadian is not enough.
It requires action through self education and
Banish the Etch A Sketch and choose to remember.
Eoghan Nations grown corrupt
Love bondage more than liberty;
Bondage with ease than strenuous liberty.
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Reminder to self:
Reminder to Self & Project Updates
This blog is an organic forum where I can digitally record and hash out ANY thoughts on the project. DO NOT WORRY ABOUT AN AUDIENCE. This is for YOU, Rod Dioso! Notes about the project at hand:
I have been fortunate enough to receive an OAC Grant for the Filipino-Torontonian Diaspora Community Project (I must come up with a better title for this). Completion of this project connects nicely with the MA work I will be doing in London studying the PI-UK community. I wish to incorporate more academic theory in the artistic process as I feel the integrity of the project depends on it and research will inevitably add to my growth as an artist. To achieve this, I have made connections the York Centre for Asian Research (YCAR). I have also joined York University’s Professor Philip Kelly’s Philippine Study Group which will commence meetings in September of this year. The next tasks in order of priority are to make connections with the Filipino community and to further research digital art history and theory. Aspects of the project to be considered:
Through my work I wish to visually represent aspects of these communities that are transnational in nature. What has been retained from the Philippines? In what ways has change occurred? Why has it changed? How do I hypothesize the Filipino community in London will be different from that of Toronto? Below are possible themes of the community I wish to explore:
1.The culture of food as a vehicle for socialization
2.Photos taken by community members rather than by the artist
3.Differences in language/dialects and fluency of English between members of the community
4.Class divisions between members of the community
5.Attitudes of regionalism brought from the Philippines
I am realizing this is bigger than I imagined. I have more work ahead of me than I anticipated. That said, the work is engaging, stimulating and personal to my specific skills and experiences. It is an understatement to say that I am very excited to see the successful completion of the project.
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Lost blog entry, lost memory and a visit to my Lola's
I am devastated! I’ve just lost all the writing I’ve been doing for the last hour. I think it’s fitting that the blog entry that I was composing, about the loss and redefinition of cultural and linguistic memory, was erased by a careless click of the mouse. Sue tells me that I should just let go and write it again. She says it will surely be better the second time around. She’s right, (deep breath), so here it goes…
I’ve just come back from a pizza dinner visit with my 91 year-old grandmother. My Lola Cherry earned her fruity nickname because as a toddler I couldn’t pronounce the “ng” sound in her actual name, “Charing”, and what I was saying instead must have sounded like the yummy red fruit that is currently in season. As a child I was fluent in Tagalog, albeit ill-pronunced as the “ng” is crucial. When I started school, I seemed to have replaced all speaking memory of Tagalog for English. I believe it was a sort of defence mechanism as I was the only brown kid in the playground and I couldn’t speak a stich of English. I quickly learned English and just as quickly lost my ability to speak in Tagalog. I say this because although I can fully understand the rapid Tagalog in family gatherings and popular Pinoy movies like “Mano Po”, I was at a loss when forced to ask for directions in the Philippines. Somehow the memory of the language I knew as a child was locked in my head. I have currently enrolled in Tagalog classes (start date in the Fall) to release this lost memory from my mind.
My Lola is also experiencing challenges of memory. She had shown signs of slight forgetfullness before I left for Paris in January, but since my return her short-term memory has degraded considerably. She asked me about the wonderful cheeses in Paris and if it was very expensive to live there. She asked me how long I stayed there and if I had plans to travel again. After answering each of these questions she’d repeat the series of questions once more as if it were the first time she had asked it. This happened at least half a dozen times throughout the course of our dinner. Those of us in the family who see her most worry that she is in the first stages of dementia. As with most problems in my family, the issue is never actually talked about but the gravity of the situation is always alluded to. I’ve learned from my mother, my Titas and my Lola that when things are serious it is better to say nothing than to tell everything. Despite the fact that our conversation was in a loop, my lola was still as charming as ever and we had a more meaningful exchange because I could really see certain aspects of her personality in the repetition. Although she confuses the names of her daughters she is still the meticulous perfectionist who will cut her mangoes as close to the bone as possible. She doesn’t remember to take her medication but hasn’t forgotten that eggplants are bad for her gout. She remembers how to speak Spanish although she hasn’t used it in over 30 years. She offered me a parting gift of mangoes, the ones I just brought to her house.
My Lola’s first cousin suffered from dementia before she died. Although she was fluent in both English and Tagalog throughout her life, she spent her last days speaking only Tagalog and not being able to communicate with her American husband. I wonder if my Lola will also lose her memory of English, and if so, will she lose her memory of Canada? Where do I fit in that memory? Am I a part of her Canada or her Philippines? Will I ever find my childhood Tagalog? Will restoring this memory make me more Filipino? I am reminded that some things have to be said several times before they can become real and remembered, how some things take only once and how some things will never become real.
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It's Father’s Day and in keeping with the theme I thought I'd recount a story that I heard just last week. A childhood tale from Tatay that took place in San Pablo.
This is a story of my Dad’s banlon shirt. Banlon was a very rare material in the Philippines when my dad was a teenager. Those few who could afford to wear banlon were given automatic status and respect within the community. Like most men in San Pablo, my Lolo valued what others thought and how he looked in the community. His eldest son was an extension of his own image. Although he had two other boys he gave my dad (the oldest) a beautiful, white, banlon shirt to match the one he bought for himself. My teeenage father wore it with pride and was the envy of his peers. He said he could feel the eyes on him when he wore it, and I could tell by the way he said it, he was surprisingly impressed by the power it possessed over his neighbours and friends.
One day, soon after my father received this rare top, his Tito Popoy asked to borrow the shirt. Popoy was only twelve years his senior and although he was my father's uncle, he was quite close to my dad and was seen more as an older brother than a Tito. My father, although hesitant, couldn't refuse Popoy's request.
So Popoy used the banlon shirt for a local BBQ he was attending. I’m guessing that Popoy was either quite arrogant in wearing the shirt or that he was at a terribly unfriendly party because this was to be the last day that the shirt would hold its magical powers.
Apparently as the story goes, a jealous friend "accidentally" poked Popoy with a greasy hot BBQ fork and pierced the beautiful white shirt. (Popoy was unharmed as I know for a fact that my Tito is still out and about and attending plenty more BBQs in San Pablo). My Dad told me this in tears of laughter touching the side of his ribs where the shirt would have been ruined, demonstrating the jabbing motions of the stick in mock jealousy.
After the party, my father tried wearing the shirt but soon realized that the large stained hole took away its charm. As much as he wanted to, he could no longer wear the shirt. He had to eventually lie to his own father about the shirt and say that he was the cause of its ruin as telling the truth would be a betrayal to Popoy and partly to himself who allowed it to be borrowed. We laughed hysterically about this magic shirt story but I'm sure that it was a cause of much stress when my dad was going through it.
I'm reminded of just how important social relations are in the Filipino mentality. Ideas of loyalty and social status are complex but essential systems that are learned young. In this story of the banlon shirt, my father communicated to me the importance of appearances to the Filipino male. As well as the age-based hierarchy that existed between men when he was growing up. Of course this dynamic wasn't carried directly into my own upbringing but some remnants of these ideals still permeate my life.
As we speak I have a few beautiful Pierre Cardin ties, gifts of my father, in my closet and an expensive Italian suit once owned by my late Lolo. My Lolo was a small man and I hold on to the suit even though it doesn't fit, nor ever will fit my large Canadian-fed frame. I keep these things, I think, because of cultural memories and values that my own father has passed on to me and that I may eventually pass on to my children. Even up to now, my father carries a stylish vanity that keeps him youthful-looking in his sixties.
In a way, the Filipino male as the proud handsome rooster, is an analogy that I too have taken to heart and revel in from time to time. Although I don’t like shopping, I have been known to indulge in a few hand-tailored goodies (a made-to-fit silk AoDai from Hanoi, a Parisian pinstriped 2-piece suit, Italian leather sneakers, among others). Like Lolo and my dad, I also like to look good. And why not? When you got it, strut it, pare! ;)
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