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Archive for May, 2008

About a year ago, a heated exchange broke out between two of my students. This was a community college, where most of the attendees were first-generation college students. The discussion topic touched on career goals, and a shy nursing student, I’ll call her Cam, spoke for the first time.

Cam did not really want to be in nursing. She was the eldest of several children, and her Cambodian American family came to the US as refugees in the 1970s. Nursing was a guaranteed money-earner, and she needed to help support her large extended family. But what she really wanted was to be a fashion designer. (This was the year Chloe Dao won Project Runway.)

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This discussion on Racialicious reminds me of those horrible skin lightening product commercials I saw on television the last time I was in Manila. If you’re Filipina, you know the brand I’m talking about. Block & White. And if you’re not Filipina but Asian, you probably have equivalent products and brands.

I was no longer surprised that the skin whitening ads—largely aimed at women, btw—equate fairness with beauty, popularity. Nor was I surprised that milky white skin is equated with being healthy. The ads aren’t even subtle about their colorism. The Block & White deodorant stick ad, for example, repeats the phrase “So dry! So white!” like a mantra.

But I admit being taken aback by the following ads:

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The Long Run

I’ve been trying for a while now to write a post about running. After all, I do have the word “runner” in my blog subtitle. But I kept hitting the wall. So I’m grateful that John L. Parker helped me find the words.

There’s a reason why many runners consider Parker’s Once a Runner the best novel written about running. It’s probably not the tedious Quentin vs. the university officials conflict, nor is it the dangerous training program that Quentin followed. (Tip: When your pee turns to blood, it’s time to stop running.)

It’s an inspiration to read how Parker translates into words the pure joy of running. For me, this joy lies in planting one foot in front of the other. The crunch of earth and dust on the trail. The sun in your eyes, the tailwind at your heels. The cadence of your breath and your heartbeat. On the best of days, all these elements coalesce to make you feel painfully, beautifully, intensely alive.

I’ve been running on and off since my teens, but always with some far-off goal in mind. Losing weight. Or fulfilling PE credits so I could graduate. It’s only in the last two years or so when I began running for the sake of it. Running itself became the goal. But for a long time, I couldn’t articulate why.

There’s a passage in Once a Runner where Quentin struggles to explain what drives him to run:

He ran because it grounded him in basics. There was both life and death in it… Running to him was real, the way he did it the realest thing he knew. It was all joy and woe, hard as diamond; it made him weary beyond comprehension. But it also made him free.

It made him free.

I’m a back-of-the-packer, nowhere near Quentin’s league. It will take a Faustian bargain for me to sustain a 9 minute mile for an entire 10K, much less a marathon. Sometimes, I even entertain the idea of doing the Western States 100, but it’s not an obsession, and I’ll be fine if I don’t. But there are times when I get into a really good run, and like Quentin, I feel like I can’t make myself tired. These are moments that I feel truly free.

I don’t even think it’s the running itself, but the struggle to do it, that generates these moments of freedom. And I think this potential to generate such moments informs all our struggles. This potential is tantalizingly present on the trail. And in the classroom, facing hostile students who conflate critical pedagogy with indoctrination. And in facing allies, otherwise good people who willingly gloss over the experiences and concerns of others.

And yes, these struggles can and do make us weary.

But then, the student you least expect to turns in an insightful paper. An ally modifies his worldview, just a little maybe, but it’s a start. I shave a few seconds off a personal best. These moments don’t happen everyday, but they happen often enough to keep me running.

The struggle to crest one more hill, the struggle to connect with others, these are all struggles that ground us.

Writing. Running. Teaching. Loving. My struggles generate woe and joy. And in the long run, they make me free.

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In Maneuvers: The International Politics of Militarizing Women’s Lives, Cynthia Enloe defines militarization as “the step-by-step process by which something becomes controlled by, dependent on, or derives value from the military or militaristic criteria.” It is an insidious process, one rooted in accepting that the world is a dangerous place and that having enemies is a given. People who want to be “protected” seek out “protectors.”

Enloe’s writings make me think of my first paid writing assignment, a feature on military abuses in a tiny mountain village in Quezon province. It was 1990. A group of soldiers descended on this sitio—really nothing more than ten one-room plywood houses around a clearing—and opened fire.

A young mother narrated how a bullet whizzed by her head and tore through a can of powdered milk before burying itself in a wall. One grandmother showed us bullets still embedded in the wooden bars of empty chicken coops.

“No more eggs,” said the grandmother, shaking her head. “They sundalos took all the hens.”

Back then, I did wonder at the lack of outrage among the general population on such military abuses. After all, this was not an isolated case, a rogue military platoon gone wild. Rather, terrorizing suspected insurgents and sympathizers were completely in line with the Low Intensity Conflict strategies the insurgents employed by the Aquino government, with the full backing of the United States. I thought that many Filipinos ignored militarization because areas where abuses happened were geographically isolated. And it was easy to dismiss a population labeled as the enemy.

So when the Philippine Senate voted to end the US-Philippine Military Bases Agreement in 1991, I joined the celebrations. I was happy that the US troop withdrawal would usher the end of militarization in the countryside.

Ahh, youthful optimism.Map by Focus on the Global South

Also, they’re baaaaaaaack

From Focus on the Global South, this map illustrates the presence of US military troops in the Philippines today. In their At the Door of All the East: The Philippines in United States Military Strategy, the organization shows the insidious ways in which the US “is transforming its presence in the Philippines in a way that seeks to heighten its capacity for intervention within the country and in the region.

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Passing It On by Yuri KochiyamaToday marks the eighty-seventh birthday of Yuri Kochiyama, an admirable woman who has spent the past six decades working for social justice.

When her family was interned in an Arkansas internment camp during World War II, Kochiyama saw firsthand the parallels between the treatment of African Americans and Japanese Americans. The petite Kochiyama is a towering figure in the civil rights and racial equality movements. She has worked alongside the Black Panthers and Malcolm X, and she was the woman who cradled his head after he was shot in the Audubon Ballroom in 1965. In the 1970s, she helped to bring attention to the cause for Puerto Rican independence by joining activists in a takeover of the Statue of Liberty.

Today, Kochiyama remains an advocate, participating in rallies for immigrant rights and against the war. She has started a grassroots group called Asian Americans for the San Francisco Eight, to raise awareness among fellow Asian Americans on how the “case of the San Francisco 8 is such a struggle for progressive and radical community activists to fight for basic human rights, for their chosen means of redressing injustices, and for all peoples’ rights for life, liberty, and true democracy.”

Few people have consistently represented Asian Americans or done more to bridge the social justice struggles across the racial and ethnic divide.

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In honor of California’s affirmation of marriage equality rights, as well as Asian Pacific American Heritage month, here are some interesting tidbits from my previous readings:

New Peoples Army Recognizes Same-Sex Marriage by LeiLani Dowell

On Feb. 4, [2005], the New People’s Army (NPA) conducted the first same-sex marriage in the Philippines. Two guerrilla fighters who have participated in the armed struggle against the pro-U.S. regime in Manila, Ka Andres and Ka Jose, exchanged their vows before their comrades, friends and local villagers. . .

In response to the marriage, representatives of the Philippine government have condemned the NPA for lacking religion. A spokesperson for the Air Force generals told reporters, “This proves that they have no god and their morality is very much in question.” . . .

During the ceremony, Ka Andres and Ka Jose were draped in a sequined flag of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), which was secured by a long, beaded rope around the couple and their sponsors. The rope and flag, according to the Philippine Daily Inquirer, symbolized that their marriage would be made stronger with the help of both their comrades and the masses.

The Ambivalence of Queer Asian Pacific Americans Toward Same-Sex Marriage by Glenn D. Magpantay (Amerasia Journal, vol 33, no. 1, 2006):

Because of the great need for legal protections and benefits, LGBT APAs [Asian Pacific Americans] must, and do, support the right for same-sex couples to legally marry.
Many LGBT APAs do not benefit from this right at all. . . LGBT APAs are immigrants. Even in the one state that allows for same-sex marriage, it is a right that immigrant APAs are denied. GLAD, the group that successfully litigated the Massacussetts marriage case, has counseled immigrants against entering into same-sex marriages. According to a warning issued by GLAD, marriages between same-sex bi-national couples are ineffective in changing the immigration status of the non-citizen partner and could even lead to deportation. . .

In this analysis, one must be aware of the difference between state-sanctioned and federally-recognized marriage. The most important marriage benefits for immigrants are at the federal level. . .

Gay marriage activists must diversify the campaign. They must feature more people of color as spokespeople and plaintiffs. Marriage advocates must actively outreach to immigrants, people of color, and non-gay APA groups. They must also support and integrate proposals to ensure that immigrants enjoy the rights and benefits that typically flow from marriage.

And from Asian Equality, a timeline showing APA involvement in the marriage equality struggle.

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My grandfather used to tell me stories about bayanihan. Of how, when a family needed to move, neighbors gathered around the house. They slid bamboo poles under the structure, forming a sort of bamboo harness. Then individuals would each take hold of a pole, and together they would hoist up the entire structure and walk the entire house to its new location.

There’s not a lot of house-walking going on these days, but the idea of a bayanihan spirit, of cooperation and partnership, lives on. The motivations behind bayanihan also make it a unique concept, as people help out not simply out of pity or charity. Rather, there is the idea that helping an individual or one family is actually helping the whole bayan. Bayan, is the key concept here, a term that could refer to a barrio, a town, a region or province, or even to the entire country.

The tradition of bayanihan lives on among Filipino Americans, as seen in the numerous organizations of Filipinos from the same towns, the same probinsiyas, or more generally, for all Filipinos migrants. But bayan also has another important meaning — community. Filipinos in America are in a unique position to expand on the concept of bayan as a community, to extend the bayanihan spirit beyond nationality and to be allies with other marginalized groups.

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