With catchy slogans like #itsmorefuninthephilippines and the seemingly automatic default coping skill of the mass populace to rationalize, give it up to God (this one, in particular, being my most used strategy as of late), and/or find the silver lining in anything and everything, it can be easy to fall into the idea that life in Manila and the Philippines is a Cover Girl commercial. You know, easy, breezy, and beautiful.
Just like makeup, though, this mentality either enhances or conceals.
And, as for my experience, I’m having an R. Kelly reaction; my mind is basically telling my one thing, but my body…my body’s telling me another. My experience and understanding of the Philippines has been everything along the spectrum of dream-like to nightmare-inducing to a downright numbness possibly similar to sleepwalking.
Sure. With the power of the USD (or basically any other currency) within the reach of your hands, your wildest (and possibly, most illegal) dreams can come true. I mean, quite frankly, even your dog can have a yaya. Nevermind that the woman taking care of your dogs’ every beckon bark and call has her own kids she can barely even support or spend time with since she’s spending most of her day commuting to work and ensuring that Fido is taken care of.
Any thing you want, you got it, and I’m pretty sure the person serving it to you is smiling, nodding their head the entire time, being agreeable, avoiding conflict and confrontation at all costs. While some folks have found peace with the horrid imbalance of power in this society, I find myself riding the choppy waves of adjustment (and resistance) to the blatant, every day normalization of poverty.
While I have found many pockets of happiness in the land of my ancestors, I still find myself smacked in the face with so many conflicting ideals, feelings, emotions, thoughts, etc. that as many a suburban teenager says, “I can’t even.”
In my 1.5 years of living here, outside of your typical expat condo lifestyle, I’ll go ahead and identify myself as an expert on telling Fil-Am’s the realness. (That last comment was sarcastic, but only about 45% so. I really do think there are a lot of things that can’t even be verbalized with living this experience, but all I gotta say is I do not want to see anyone hashtag “the struggle”, “hustle”, or “grit” without stepping foot outside the comfort bubbles of Makati, the Fort, or Ortigas.)
My thoughts aren’t fully formed or coherent even to myself as my posts and blog are very much written straight off the cuff, but what I guess I’m trying to get at is trying to make sense of something like poverty is so nonsensical that it’s almost not worth our energy to try.
It’s like looking for meaning in a Pauly Shore movie.
While on the topic of clueless, I feel there are so many people left in the dark (both intentionally and unintentionally by their own ignorance or willful negligence) about the varying shades of poverty the majority of this country identifies as every day life. Amongst the clueless are those who are impoverished themselves.
Further drawing out the clueless reference (because, honestly, it’s one of my favorite movies), sometimes I feel like the Philippines is like a clueless girl mixing with all the wrong dudes. She doesn’t know her worth partly because she doesn’t know who she is and what she stands for. She let’s folks use her, manipulate her, take her riches, usurp her strengths and use them for their own gain, in exchange for some assurance of the mere potential of her worth. A vote of confidence to supplant the lack of self-respect and self-love deep within her. Sure, she has her reasons for the lack of self-worth–a bad past, a tough childhood…you know, colonization, imperialism, militarism, capitalism–but in the end, she and only she alone, can break the cycle of disrespect and abuse.
I can’t wait for the day when the Philippines finally has that one Beyoncé or Keyshia Cole or Erykah Badu lyric hit–just hit her square in the heart–and she comes into the awakening of her immense beauty, wisdom, and power. I cannot wait for that day to come.
You know, maybe that day is upon us. Maybe I’m writing smack in the middle of said day, but I’m still waiting for a beacon call of sorts to regale the start of a renaissance.
The start of a revolution.
Basically, I’m waiting for the spirit of Gabriela Silang herself to come charging by full-speed, weaving in and out of jeepney and tryke traffic, of course, bolo-wielding, spearheading and symbolizing the rise of Filipino consciousness of self-worth and consequent actions that support this new internal paradigm shift.
Actually, even in my fantasy, I just see a flustered Gabby sitting atop her horse, stuck in traffic, scattered horns honking, jeepney smoke puttering in her horse’s whinnying face, and vendors and barkers weaving their way around her, her bolo, and her steed. One vendor even motions to her to buy a pack of rags and she just sends them off with a resigned wave of her bolo. Oh, Gabby. Next time, take the MRT. Even with the crowds, at least you don’t get stuck in the traffic of EDSA below.
I’m always torn when I write posts like this because I think of all the incredibly intelligent, passionate, and proud people I know personally and am fearful of possibly offending anyone. Then again, writing that last sentence brings up another deeply-ingrained point of sacrificing honesty and authenticity for the convenience of others. Unlearning the learned in so many ways. If these Filipinos (no hyphen or discussion whether or not a hyphen is necessary), my new-found friends and confidantes, born-and-bred in the Philippines, are supposedly part of the phenomenon of the colonial mentality that I so detest, what exactly does that mean in terms of our relationship? By virtue of my blue passport, what does that mean in terms of power relations and dynamics? Then, on second thought, I, too, am a constant work in decolonizing my own thoughts and frameworks despite my American citizenship.
In re-aligning and re-positioning my center and understandings of life and the world not to the periphery, necessarily, but rather to an amorphous and ambiguous space that’s ripe for definition and significance. It is from this space that agency and authority to my individual authenticity and voice is given. (Oh…gotta love the passive tense for a sentence that has so much potential for power in it.)
Since minorities have always been on the margins of any significant societal powerhold in the U.S. (or any context for that matter) since, oh, the Puritans laid their weary, soulless-yet-super-fearful-of-losing-their-soul-to-the-devil, Bible-laden buckled boots on that land, I’m gonna stick to the good, ole American notion of pretty much “eff yo’ couch, I’mma get mine” hence why it’s MY voice and not OUR voice. (Btw, this individualistic mentality totally and utterly conflicts with the Philippines’ community-minded way of thinking, breathing, being, doing, living, dying.)
I do, hope, though, as any good Canadian does (I’m Canadian, too, eh), our collective individual voices while still retaining their individualism, can create a space where both our unity and uniqueness thrives and is celebrated.
Coming back to my point and focus and purpose is that making sense of life here is just like this post has hopefully been–there’s some flow, but it’s pretty much here, there, and everywhere (and with being in all these places, it’s eventually in the middle of nowhere, as well). This post was spurred on by a seemingly normal commute home…and what makes it unfortunately is that it is considered “normal”.
As Mariah puts it, “it’s like that y’all”.
Well, maybe I’m tired of that answer, but in the interest of self-preservation, reducing cortisol levels in my aging (okay…rapidly approaching 30 years old) body, and just finding peace in my life, I go with that answer. Just like the majority of people in this country and the world who have any exposure and awareness of poverty or violation of human rights.
Poverty is a violation of human rights. There’s no other way to put it.
Maybe in the end all this mental winding and grinding leads to nothing but awareness with a slim chance of change. Or a fresh harvesting of anger. Or sadness. Or feelings of helplessness. Or pretty much some uncomfortable and unresolved feeling that usually sparks people to write an indignant Facebook update (or blog post like me).
Either that or just apathy and disconnect.
Whichever, bro. Bruh. Broday.
All the finnicking and panicking and impassioned pleas to save the (fill-in-the-blank-of-the-most-pressing-need) or support the fight against (fill-in-the-most-pressing-enemy) just get me in a headspin, then have me throw my hands up (literally, I just dropped my phone mid-sentence only to pick it up again to not leave this blog post unresolved), then finally give it up to God and the universe and have faith in the absurd and things that make absolutely no sense.
I mean, in the end, there is no resolution in anything so maybe it’s about time we get comfortable with discomfort as discomfort means change, growth, and progress. Even if it’s coming at an EDSA-like