This post serves partly as an index to all of the writing I’ve done on this site about my homeland, The Philippines. My relation to this homeland has been problematic my whole life, and, in fact, the list of writings below is one of my strongest bonds to my birth country. That is, I read about the Philippines and write about its history and culture more than I’m actually in that culture itself. Or in the actual country itself.
I was born in Manila in January 1949, leaving it to join my father—a U.S. Army soldier—in Okinawa in November that same year. “Oh, when were you home last?” so many of my friends, especially my Filipino friends, ask. I’ve never been back. My father could not come back for my birth even, so his first sight of me was when I was already eleven months old. After we all boarded a boat and came to the United States in 1951, I know of only one time he himself went back. He did so after my mother died in 1981, and, it seems, almost died there himself, though we didn’t find out until many weeks later because there was still no phone in our village, San Esteban, Ilocos Sur, so we had to wait until someone walked the many miles south to La Union to call us. My mother and father’s marriage caused a giant blowup between the two families—formerly friends, her brother, Uncle Jimmy, being my Dad’s best friend. Until he married his sister. My Mom didn’t speak to some of her siblings for 20 years or more afterwards, and both Mom and Dad told us, every time visiting the homeland came up, that the Philippines was a place you never ever wanted to be. When my Dad’s Mom died, my parents fought about whether he would go back for his own mother’s funeral. He didn’t.
Then there is the language. In “Homelessness and Me” I’ve written about the deep, isolating pain of losing my native language. I don’t know that I’ll ever go back until—if ever—my language skills get better.
I received my most intense Filipino experiences the summers I spent as a “tween” and early teenager in Terra Bella and Porterville, California, mostly working the fields: picking tomatoes, grapes, and figs, hoeing weeds, pulling leaves. There I heard the language again, though found it virtually impossible to speak. There I helped hand-slaughter animals, mostly pigs and goats, for feasts. Now, since I’ve been attending Friendship United Methodist Church (Bolingbrook, IL) for many years, I’ve been back with more Filipino friends than I have in decades. They love me and I them, but not being able to speak my own language, or the Tagalog most of them speak, is a deep, deep pain.
Which leaves me a student of books and media and a writer of articles about the Philippines. Listed first below is my major article on N.V.M. Gonzalez, one of the Philippines’ greatest writers. It helped establish me as a writer and scholar.
- “N.V.M. Gonzalez – As in myth…” Part 1, Part 2
- “World Writing: N.V.M. Gonzalez” – a sketch
- “The Empty Center and the International Style” – Part 1, Part 2
- “Filipinos in the Land of the Hyper-Real” – on Pops, Martin, and more…
- “The White Man’s Burden” – Kipling encourages Imperialism
- “Memories from the Mountains” – review of an art exhibit
- “Welcome to the International Hotel” Part 1, Part 2
- “U.S. Returns Balangiga Bells” – on the Philippine-American War
- “Tony Bourdain’s Manila” – his most unusual TV episode
♦ Go to the Teaching Diversity page on this site.