Going Home, walking between borders and Living in the House of Trump

It is obvious that Trump and his followers doesn’t think we belong here.

Who do I mean by “we”? Brown skinned immigrants. His wives are immigrants, but he never talks about dirty Russians or suspicious Eastern Europeans. Black Americans, people who disagree with his politics – obviously also other.

My kids always use “American” as short hand for white American. I ask, do you mean “white American?” or “Black American?” or “Asian American?” Clearly, they perceive our otherness, in this culture and in the House of Trump. “American” defaults to Whiteness.

A Trump supporter yells, go back to Africa, go back to Mexico, tells all “Muslims” to go back to Islam(!??!). The US Supreme Court allows for the forcible internment, imprisonment of all people of Japanese descent, their US citizenship not protecting them. I learned about this as a child and realized that this belief – the belief that we are not really American, even if born here, this applies to me. This place has always been the House of Trump.

My mom always calls the Philippines “back home.” A US citizen for decades but the Philippines is always back home. A reader of my blog (thanks for reading!) asked me whether the Philippines is home. And I have been thinking a lot about it.

I was born in the US and grew up only understanding every nook and cranny of American racism, white supremacy, hatred of women. The Philippines is respite for me, where my small Asian body feels more at home and not alien, but the culture, the politics, the colonialism and its impacts are mysteries I experience only at Skype’s length of through Facebook posts. But the US can never totally be home because it includes the House of Trump and its inhabitants feel like they could kick us out at any moment, no matter citizenship.

I remember vividly the joy of returning back to the Philippines for the first time. I was astounded that my family could greet me with open arms, that the country recognized me as a returning fellow countryperson, a member of the diaspora, even though it was my first actual physical step in the Philippines. I was relating this to my friend, a Black-American and he said he wished he had that. The brutality of American-slavery was the destruction of that return home. Where would he go? To the place of his enslavement? But the US is his because his ancestors built it – it became a world superpower because of 400 years of slavery meant an accumulation of wealth at the hands of the ruling elite that no one could match.

The US is mine, because I was born here but I will always be a stranger too. The Philippines is home because my heart was born there, but I will always also be a stranger. Children of immigrants, we walk borderlands, we follow whispers, we dive into deep caves. And let’s not kid ourselves, the House of Trump has always been here. This country was built on equal parts genocide, slavery, war, imperialism, AND hope, revolution, protest, and resistance. As always, the question is Which Side are You On?

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“Wait, white people can be terrorists, too?”

This what my son asks, when I explain that the KKK is a white terrorist organization. As my previous post of explains, we try to not use the word “terrorist” in our home. http://brooklynbarangay.com/2012/09/12/september-11-and-why-we-dont-use-the-word-terrorist-in-our-home-2/. The basic reason is because terrorism is really just code – code for white supremacist logic about who is “civilized” and who is not, whose lives matters, whose does not.

We rarely watch mainstream news. But my kids were hearing about “terrorism” outside our house, in school, and in the headlines, and so I wanted to introduce a counter-narrative when I used terrorist to describe the KKK.

My son’s question, asked in innocence, casts a glaring spotlight on what terrorism means  in our world today. It means brown people, it means Muslim, it means foreign invaders come to take away civilization and replace it with savagery and barbarism. It is racist code, a way to be racist without using the typical slurs or epithets. It is shorthand to attach the weight of white supremacist logic without having to use all the words. It implies the “great clash of civilization” vs the “savages/heathens” narrative in one short word.

Another example of how the racist trope of terrorism has invaded mainstream culture is during the Lord of the Rings, when the “wild men” attack the “last stand of men” with their heads wrapped in scarfs and on elephants. An unmistakable reference to the brown people of India or the Middle East and again my kids recognized it right away – they said, “hey, look, terrorists”.

So I had to unpack it for them. I asked them why they thought this was true. They pointed to the scarfs and said they looked like the Taliban. I tried to explain racist stereotyping, and we talked about what it would mean to have your country invaded by another army. Should defending yourself be considered terrorism? We talked about US drone strikes that have killed children and civilians. Is this terrorism? We tried to talk about perspectives too, to explain that mainstream culture and media is not our perspective because they frame things from a deeply racist set of assumptions.

I posted earlier about talking about race with our children. And I think I will need to have several more posts on this subject. So it is not enough that we don’t use “terrorism” in our house, in fact, it is wrong to avoid the word. We need to talk about it because obviously our kids are immersed in it. I realize now that our children are growing up with different racist codes, different wars, different hatreds and we need to give the tools to unpack these words and understand what they mean.

What Happens When Your Kids Are Raised In “Foodie” Culture

1. They Invent dishes. Like the one below. My son calls it Pastrami Sushi.

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2. They think about presentation when they make their snacks. When creating said dishes, my son declares – “I need a condiment on it. I ask, “what did you choose?” He answers: “I put a drop of soy sauce on each one for decoration and a touch of olive oil.”  After invention of snack, my kids say, “cheers” before eating it.

3. They think that food needs a name. Actually decides to rename his dish “snackers delight” and declares it should be surrounded by kale chips.

4. They ask about the “origin” of their food and have favorites. My daughter declares that she loves her Mast Chocolate from Belize. Well, I guess a kid liking any chocolate from Mast Chocolate is already a tad on the foodie side. My only defense is Free samples and 3 blocks away from home!

5. They have very pronounced opinions about food. We walk past the Mast Chocolate Brew Bar and my daughter says, “remember when we tried that Chocolate water? There was not even a touch of sugar in it! I mean, I want to taste the chocolate but c’mon! It needs some sugar!”

6. They pick sushi over all other food options and the local sushi chef is impressed by your kids’ palate and has memories of them double-fisting pieces of sashimi at age 2.

Brookyn Barangay Joins The People’s Climate March!

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Getting ready to make some art with DAMAYAN, Filipino Domestic Workers group!

This Sunday, September 21, Brooklyn Barangay will be joining the 100,000’s of people expected to march in NYC to show the world that we DEMAND our world leaders to act now on climate change.

We March because Typhoon Haiyan was the strongest storm to ever make landfall – in the history of the PLANET.

From pics taken in our province of Aklan, Madalag, Philippines, after Typhoon Haiyan.

From pics taken in our province of Aklan, Madalag, Philippines, after Typhoon Haiyan.

We March because the Philippines, our home, suffers from energy poverty, has contributed a tiny % of the green house gases that causes climate catastrophe and YET is one of the countries most at risk for the havoc caused by climate change.

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DAMAYAN’s Banner Clean up! FIGHT Corporate Plunder.

But Marching is not enough. We need to start to act like we are in a climate catastrophe – because we are.

We Need to Fight For Community and Worker Control of our Energy Systems. We must understand that the companies who are the worst polluters : oil and coal will literally let this planet burn for profit. They have manipulated science, public discourse, laws, in order to make a buck KNOWING that they are destroying the world. The very definition of Psychopaths.

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We Need to Fight For a Different, Sustainable Economic System Because: CAPITALISM Is UNSUSTAINABLE. 

527639_10150918412181178_1664081966_nSee You on the Streets!

Nervous about Being Happy, Our Impending Death & Our Mutant Brains

IMG_1588I have this nagging twinge of nervousness. It stays with me, this little nervous voice drives me to spend hours contemplating applying for a job I don’t want or spending hours re-working my resume. I am home, full time with the kids, and I absolutely love it. And I am grateful that money isn’t so tight that for now we can afford losing almost half of our household income. (We knew my lay-off was coming and saved up). Yet, I am nervous, I think, “I am only 40, I have 25 years at least before I can stop working.” I worry I am wasting my law degree, even though I loved going to law school (yeah, who loves law school? I am one of those geeks who did, plus it was CUNY Law = amazing activist professors and students). Oh, do I worry. And yet –

A few months ago, I participated in a workshop, where we first identified the three things most important to us. Then we closed our eyes and imagined ourselves as recently deceased. We had to then visualize the funeral, listen to hypothetical speeches, imagine who would attend, feel any regrets. Human existence is such a complex bundle of contradictions! We are so self-aware, it’s almost embarrassing! We are unable to just soar on clouds like birds or glide through water like fish – if we are did equally amazing feats like that, we would have to blog, document, and worry weather we are doing it right. Rarely, can we just experience. Kurt Vonnegut, in one of his novels, likened our huge, self-aware brains to a dangerous mutation. I see what he means, because our big brains have managed to build this brutal, global system of over-consumption and inequality to the point where we could destroy the whole planet. On the other hand, our brains have enabled us to accomplish, great, small, and large acts of beauty – music that shakes our insides, visual art that stops time, acts of compassion and love that transcend the brutality of capitalism.

But back to my impending death. Impending? Yep, all our deaths are impending. As much as we cling to out big brains and big thoughts and big plans, we are all a moment from death. Our lives are that fragile. It is hard for our self-aware selves to really live with that, with death as our constant companion, so we put false walls and barriers between us and death. And we tend to live like we have our time given to us as a right of birth. I worry about the next 20 years as if they are bricks, already laid down in front of me.

So anyway, I was sitting there thinking of my life right now – parent of two beautiful, healthy children, loving, supporting partner, great family that I live with, and excellent chosen family and friends, a home that we can afford to (and do) open up to any friends and family in need – and it all looked very good. No regrets, except of course not being alive for my kids. Not once, during my visualization did I feel regretful that I am home full time with my kids. I identified family as being the most important thing in my life so my choice, right now, reflects that value. I DID identify my work as 2nd most important, but what I defined as work was not my wage labor. Rather, it was the work of resisting capitalism, no matter how small of a resistance. For me, that means sharing of resources, fighting white supremacy, building democracy at work so we can resist as workers, fighting for our planet, building compassionate thoughtful, freedom fighters in our children. Actually there is so many ways to “do the work” but of it doesn’t involve a high powered career!

So I struggle to remind myself that I am happy. That right now, today, we are lucky to be living our life. And who knows whether I have 20 plus years at all, much less wage labor.

If I died today, I would die with very few regrets, but rather with a life fully lived. I am grateful and today, it is enough.

Summer Days, Parenting in the Time-Space Continuum

ImageAfter months of anticipation, the last day of school finally arrived! My twins are now rising 4th graders, which seems impossible. All parents will tell you that your child will grow up in a blink of an eye which turns out to be true and not true. Children seem to bend time and space, when they are small – each day goes by excruciatingly slow. For example- It takes 30 minutes to set up the baby’s first finger-painting experience, 10 minutes later the baby is done and bored with it, it takes one hour to clean up, and many years later you are likely to find some far-flung vestige of finger-paint under the sofa. THAT day goes by very slow! Those years of diapers and strollers and mid-day naps felt like forever traps, strange worm-holes that we fell into on our way to our previously child-less brunch appointments with friends. Suddenly we could never leave the house without a car-full of gear, 2 hours of prep time, and our our own-selves covered in baby spit, a lingering smell of baby poop we tried to mask with baby powder. We seriously felt like this was our new sleep deprived lives.

But while it seemed to last forever at the time, now suddenly we are on the other side and sliding fast towards teenager,tween land. Emerging from the interminable stage of total dependence to the next stage of them exerting their independence through obnoxious ways. So now, every time they ask us to sleep with them at night, or scratch their backs, or snuggle close, I try to take the memory and save it to sustain me through the possible future of teenager who would like to claim they were raised by wolves rather than living parents. I want to slow time down, but I figure we have only a year or two left and then in another blink of an eye they will be graduating from highschool and I will be in my 50’s and wondering what happened to the time.

Why We Love Manny Pacquiao the Boxer but not the Congressman ~ A Radical Ringside Commentary

Why We Love Manny Pacquiao ~ A Radical Ringside Commentary

** I wrote this piece several years ago before Manny became a Senator. Since becoming a Senator, I find it very hard to love Manny so much anymore. More about this at the end of this piece.

 As we gather, first generation Filipina/os, 2nd generation Filipina/os, middle–class, and peasants & workers to watch another Manny Pacquiao fight, I wonder at the pride and love we all feel in Manny, regardless of our background, politics and class.

 We love Manny because he smiles when he enters the ring.

We are a smiling people. It is how we survived colonization. I imagine that we smiled at Magellan, just before Lapu Lapu lopped off his head. We smiled at the Japanese conquerors while some of us escaped to join the Hukbalahap[1] in the mountains. This coping strategy means that we smile in the most inappropriate of situations. For example, in 2008, Manila was hit with a catastrophic amount of rain, and without an appropriate sewage system, people waded in polluted, filthy water to get to safety, but when the television camera landed on people fleeing their homes – they always turned and smiled.

Manny turns to all of us and smiles. It’s like he looks at us and says, “Yeah, we are some of the poorest of the world, but I am so happy to be here for us, representing that the Filipino people still survive and we still have joy.”

 We Love Manny because he lives with all of his friends and family.

 Over and over the American commentators always express astonishment at the friend and family that Manny brings with him wherever he goes. Our families are large and dysfunctional but we try to stay together. We work, love and struggle collectively. This probably comes from out pre-Spanish history. Many of our ancestors traveled the South China Sea in large boats called “barangays.” And now, this is what we call our neighborhoods, “barangays” – because we know are all in one boat together. This innate sense of interconnectedness helps maintain us when more than 10 million of us are now scattered all over the world as result of forced, economic displacement. Millions of us grow up without our mothers, fathers, sisters, cousins. We survive through creating community in Dubai, Hong Kong, and Queens, New York. We survive through living together on the railroad tracks outside Manila.

Manny knows this, he lived, hustled, and worked on the streets of General Santos City. He hasn’t forgotten that his strength comes from his clan, and so he travels with the his kababayan (fellow countrypersons). It’s like he built a huge barangay and sails it into every fight. As an act of love, he proposed a bill to make Freddy Roach a Filipino citizen. Why would anybody want to be a citizen of one of the poorest country’s in the world? Because Freddie knows that to be a Filipino/a means to never sail alone. If the boat is sinking, you will have 100 people trying to bail out the water. As Manny said recently : “Anuman na-achieve ko, tayong lahat yun.” All that I achieved, was an achievement by you(the people of the Philippines)”

 We love Manny because he sings Karaoke, Seriously. Manny has now sung on Jimmy Kimmel – live – three times! All super corny love ballads. But he sings them, for real, seriously, his heart on his sleeve, his eyes imploring into the camera. He sings like all our kababayan(fellow countrymen/women), who working overseas because of forced economic displacement, gather together in basements and boarding houses to sing the pop songs of their childhood and resist the crushing isolation of life overseas. It’s no coincidence that karaoke was invented by a Filipino.

      He is every Filipino, fresh off the boat – unashamedly not cool and with every American pop song committed to memory. We love him because we remember every time we were mocked for our accents and our unabashed passion for American love songs.   We know that if he wasn’t the best fighter in the world, he would be made fun of for his willingness to croon into the camera lyrics like “every time we touch, the honesty’s too much” without a single note of sarcasm.

 We Love Manny because he is the Philippines we aspire to be.

Manny is the smallest guy in the ring, he was the poor third-world kid who sold water to the rich petit bourgeoisie in the cars. But in the ring, he always emerges victorious. He amazes the whole world. No other fighter in history has successfully fought in so many weight classes. US President, McKinley patronizingly called us his “little brown brothers” before he sent in the United States Marines to colonize us and murder us. We are the workers, the maids, of the world. Our own country sells our bodies and labor into the world market – relying on our billions of remittances to keep the bloated, corrupt government afloat. Rather than investing in industry in the Philippines, which would give us jobs in our homeland, the Philippines is the home of some of the largest malls in the world.

But we know, deep down inside, that our country should/could be better. We have endless shores of beautiful beaches, deposits of nickel, oil off our shores, and the hardest working people in the world. We know that we should not be living in the streets, under bridges, on the railroad tracks. We used to be called the Pearl of the Orient.

Manny is our Pearl. For the twelve rounds he is in the ring, we forget the historical wrongs we have suffered. We watch him astound the world and so bring honor to our country. For a brief moment, the Filipino is victorious, our courage is undeniable, our strength is unsurpassed. For twelve rounds, Filipina domestic workers can forget that they are millions of miles away from their family, that they live their lives taking care of other people’s families while they to try to skype love across the oceans to their own families.

But at the end of the fight, we must remember that it’s the People who must lead.  At the end of the fight, Manny takes home a few million dollars, but the majority of Filipina/os continue to live everyday with the realities of starvation and deep poverty. Manny knows and remembers the desperation of that reality, and that’s why he gives us so much hope. But the real hope lies within us, the millions of Filipino/as that have the power to force the Philippine government to really work for the welfare of the people. This means a government that isn’t beholden to the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, but rather one that is run by the people and for the people. The next time we gather together to watch Manny fight yet another opponent, let’s also talk about the rich and corrupt leaders of the Philippines that continue to keep our country down for the count.

 Why I Don’t Love Manny Quite So Much, Addendum

I wrote the above several years ago and now we have some reasons to love Manny a little less. Since become a Senator, the Congressman Pacquiao has become quite the Christian, religious conservative. His own religious beliefs are his to have, of course, but he voted no on the historic reproductive rights bill in the Philippines’ Congress. This Bill, which was recently upheld by the Philippines’ Supreme court is not a radical bill, it doesn’t provide a right to abortion, for instance. “The Responsible Parenthood, Reproductive Health and Population and Development Act, known as the RH Bill, strikes down some longstanding barriers for women’s access to sexual and reproductive health care, including access to natural and modern contraception and reproductive health information for adults” according to Amnesty International’s site. Filipina women needed this bill desperately, in order to make informed choices about their reproductive health. Manny let us all down by voting no on the Bill. So, even though I am rooting for him tonite as a boxer, I hope he stops pretending to represent the people as a Senator. And I REALLY hope he doesn’t run for President!

 

[1] Also known as the Huk Rebellion,  (1946–54), Communist-led peasant uprising in central Luzon, Philippines. The name of the movement is a Tagalog acronym for Hukbo ng Bayan Laban sa Hapon, which means “People’s Anti-Japanese Army.”