A Poem For Friday: “Filipino Cats Circa 1999”, by Patrick Rosal

This week’s poem is another one by Filipino-American and New Jersey-based poet Patrick Rosal:

Filipino Cats Circa 1999 by Patrick Rosal

They who stalked
dancefloors on hind legs
bucket cap tilt
to one side sipped
slow from a bowl
hopped from barstool
to barstool They three
gun-cocked brothers
nine lives each
Smooth quick keen
seers in the dark
always landing feet first
even the youngest one
who jumped
from seven stories up

From Rosal’s second collection of poems, My American Kundiman. The book begins with “A Note on the Kundiman”:

The kundiman is a traditional Filipino song of unrequited love. Its name comes from the Tagalog phrase “kung hindi man,” which, roughly translated, means “if you will not.” Practice of the form changed during the Spanish colonial era and into the American occupation, as the woman about whom many kundiman were sung was not a woman literally, but the Filipinos’ occupied homeland, a place with an increasingly ambiguous identity in the midst of violent erasure, fragmentation, and upheaval

(Italics mine.) Previously, I’ve featured a poem from Rosal’s first collection here.


A Poem for Friday: “After Reading Aquinas”, by Asterio Gutierrez

In celebration of this special week*, our poem for (Good) Friday combines theology and basketball like only a Filipino poet can:

“After Reading Aquinas”, by Asterio Gutierrez

They say we fear what we do not understand
but it isn’t his Summa Theologica that scares me
so much as his six-foot-eight, 350-pound frame
that some say was just 8% body fat. The same
was said of Shaquille O’Neal and we all saw what he did
to every center who stood in his way of proving
he could win a championship. If we were to meet
in heaven I’d swear I’d understood him perfectly
but then again would God really save me
after I’d just compared St. Thomas to Shaq!

It has been said, succinctly and accurately, that Filipinos have lived “three hundred years in a convent, followed by fifty years in Hollywood.” The question now: Whither next?

(First published in the Philippines Graphic. You can find more literary work by Aste on his online archive. His latest short story, “The Big Man”, will be published in Philippine Speculative Fiction Vol. 6, and will be featured on this blog, shortly after the book comes out in June— look for it in your local bookstore!)


(*This year, Holy week also happens to be the NBA playoffs opening week. Special, indeed!)

What (Missing) National Identity?

In celebration of this special time of the year,* we delve into a meditation on basketball and the Filipino national identity.

I’ve previously posted about Rafe Bartholomew’s excellent book on Philippine hoops, “Pacific Rims: Beermen Ballin’ in Flip-Flops and the Philippines’ Unlikely Love Affair with Basketball.” Sometimes, we need to see ourselves through a foreigner’s fresh eyes** to recognize what is uniquely ours.

People have always struggled to define their essence, their soul, or whatever one wishes to call it. For Filipinos, basketball is part of that evanescent core.

(Emphasis mine.) I am tired of hearing that we do not have a national identity— of course, we do! Would the same people claim that there is no such thing as Filipino food, either? Bartholomew aptly quotes Filipino novelist and cultural critic Nick Joaquin:

If you tell the Pinoy-on-the-street that adobo and pan de sal are but a thin veneer of Westernization, the removal of which will reveal the “true” Filipino… the Pinoy may retort that, as far as he is concerned, adobo and pan de sal are as Filipino as his very own guts; and indeed one could travel the world and nowhere find… anything quite like Philippine adobo and pan de sal.

(Emphasis mine.) As Bartholomew perceptively points out, “Basketball, another colonial import, has also become as Filipino as the Pinoy’s guts.”

Our history is a colonial one, so it only follows that our identity will be too. Perhaps it is time to stop rejecting that (admittedly) hard truth; time to stop looking for a non-existent purely Filipino core. Heck, even “Filipino” itself is a colonial name.

Capturing our identity is extremely difficult and frustrating— I sometimes even lose sleep over it. But instead of denouncing the lack of it— or worse— disowning it (“No, I don’t have a Filipino accent— I’m educated!” or “That’s so masa!”), I humbly invoke— this Holy Week— the Serenity Prayer:

May we be granted
the serenity to accept who we are,
the wisdom to know who we can be,
and the courage to change who we will be.


(*the NBA playoffs, of course!)

(**Not of a parachutist-journalist, but a “connected critic”— one intimately involved in the lives of his subjects, but also able to observe from somewhat detached vantage point. [from Mary Pipher’s “Writing to Change the World”])

A Song For Friday: “Pinoy This Way”, by Mikey Bustos

Sung to the tune of Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way”, and true to the original’s spirit: “Today we’re celebrating/Being a Pinoy this way!”

“Pinoy This Way”, by Mikey Bustos

It doesn’t matter if you’re Pinay or if you’re P-I-N-O-Y.
Just point with your lips, pare
’cause we’re Pinoy this way, baby.
Use your eyes… If it was snake it bit you already!

My Mama scolded me when I was young, when I said I hated school.
She said “You know the land where we come from,
every class is always full.”
Because in Philippines education is never taken for granted,
no it’s not, along with food, work, and medication,
we know they all come from God.

Back home, a land far away,
Where we work hard every day,
It makes us grateful, baby
We’re Pinoy this way
Where you will need pamaypay
As temperature rises high
You have not lived ’til you live like a Pinoy this way.

Nothing ever goes to waste,
Appreciate, don’t throw away
Baby, we’re Pinoy this way!

Say my prayers everyday,
Bless to all the elderly,
We always say “po” cuz
We’re Pinoy this way.


(Emphasis mine. Lyrics lifted from the full version here.)

Meet Mikey Bustos, a 30-year old Fil-Canadian with an angelic voice, which took him to the Top 10 of 2003’s Canadian Idol. He turns out to be quite a comedian too, and an amazing YouTube video-cranking machine. His Pinoy tutorials are a must-see!

I, for one, can’t get enough. Thank you, Mikey, for sharing the Filipino experience with the world, with humor, intelligence, honesty, and pride. Keep ’em coming!

(Update: Found Lady Gaga’s “country-style” version of the song, arguably more beautiful and powerful than the (electro-synthetic) original: “Born This Way” (The Country Road Version). “Don’t be a drag, just be a queen”— and sing along!).


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The “Invisible Minority”: Good For One, Bad For All?

It is telling that the most (and perhaps, only) recognizable Filipino names in the U.S. are those of “homegrown” talents— (champion boxer) Manny Pacquiao and (singer) Charice. There are approximately 3 million Filipino-Americans, making up 1% of the national population. This is more than enough to drive a microtrend. Yet, judging from the national news coverage and popular media (TV, books, radio), Fil-Ams might as well not exist, or more aptly, not matter.

Filipino-American Navy doctor Commander Connie Mariano, who served as White House doctor for nine years, and as the personal physician of former president Bill Clinton, speaks honestly about invisibility in her 2010 memoir, “White House Doctor: My Patients were Presidents”:

Stay out of the picture is what we are told on day one of our arrival at the White House. The commandment handed down from the White House Military Office is: Thou shalt be invisible. It was an easy edict for me to follow. Growing up as the Filipino daughter of a Navy steward, invisibility was embedded in my DNA.

(Emphasis mine.) Elsewhere, she elaborates:

As the child of a Navy steward, I knew my place— we were the military servant class. Whenever we would visit my father at the admiral’s headquarters, we would always enter through the kitchen.

She later recalls her first visit to the White House as a young girl. Her family entered, not through the front doors like the other tourists, but through the back doors to the kitchen (where her Uncle works). In her words, Navy stewards were “glorified houseboys.”

Navy steward? You know, those nice, smiling Filipino men who quietly serve you your meals, iron your laundry, and keep your house clean.

This leads us to the “obvious” facet of Filipino invisibility, the one that is tied to his or her sense of place in the social hierarchy. I will be the last person to underestimate the insidiousness of “colonial mentality.” But I also recognize that its effects are dramatically diminished with each generation, born and raised in America.

What troubles me more is the other, less-obvious, facet of Filipino invisibility— one that benefits the individual, just as it hurts the group. I would argue that, like the LGBT community*, Filipinos in America have succeeded in many fields, in no small part, because of the invisibility of their Filipino-ness (that is to say, their Other-ness).

Due to historical reasons, there is no overt signifier of Filipino-ness— not our names, sometimes, not even our faces. Who is to suspect that these recognizable names are Filipino-Americans? In sports, (Miami Heat head coach) Erik Spoelstra and (San Francisco Giants pitcher) Tim Lincecum; in the arts, (Grammy-award winning singer and composer) Bruno Mars and (McArthur award-winning playwright) Han Ong, just to name a few. I would venture to say that the only people who know that they are Filipinos are Filipinos too.

And then there is this that troubles me most: the deliberate denial of Filipino-ness, as in the case of Yale law professor and notorious “Tiger Mom” Amy Chua. I have more to say about this, which I will defer to a future post. (So stay tuned.)

In a truly post-racial, post-national world, every race will be invisible. But we are not yet there (far from it). In the world we live in today, for Filipino-Americans to be truly American, they must first be heard. And to be heard, they must first be seen.

Unfortunately, as long as invisibility helps more than it hurts, the cloaks will stay on. In other words, as long as the Philippines languishes as a nation, and the imbalance of (economic and political) power is not tipped (even ever so slightly), Filipino-Americans— as a group— will languish as well. The fates of Filipino-Americans and Filipinos “back home” are more intertwined than either of them realize. The sooner we embrace this truth, the better our chances are at creating a world in which invisibility cloaks hurt more than they help— a world in which one can truly be proud to be Filipino.


(*LGBT stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender people.)


I am eager to hear what you think— this page is open for your replies…

A Poem for Friday: “Manila” by Hotdog

After a short trip to America’s heartland for a scientific symposium, I’m back to posting with this week’s musical tribute to my hometown of Manila, the one-and-only city with “flying jeepneys”:

“Manila”, by Hotdog

Manila, Manila
I keep coming back to Manila
Simply no place like Manila
Manila, I’m coming home

I walked the streets of San Francisco
I’ve tried the rides in Disneyland
Dated a million girls in Sydney
Somehow I feel like I don’t belong

Hinahanap-hanap kita Manila (I keep looking for you, Manila)
Ang ingay mong kay sarap sa tenga (your noise is yummy to the ears!)
Mga jeepney mong nagliliparan (your jeepneys a-flying)
Mga babae mong nag-gagandahan (your girls a-pretty)
Take me back in your arms Manila
And promise me you’ll never let go
Promise me you’ll never let go

Manila, Manila
Miss you like hell, Manila
No place in the world like Manila
I’m coming home to stay!

(Emphasis mine.) For more nostalgic fun, check out the rest of The Best of Manila Sound: Vol. 1 and subsequent volumes!

(Hat Tip: English translation by Claro La Verdad in his recent post “The Everlasting Charms of Manila & Me (Part I) from the American ex-pat-run blog Live in the Philippines.)

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