8 February 2018

Ang tanga-tanga mo talaga, Josh. You're such a fool.

Imagine yourself rejecting an offer you know would've drastically changed your life for the good. For now, you won't regret it, but perhaps later you will. Within grasp was the power to change your destiny, but for a moment for sentimentality, you chucked it all in the rubbish bin, knowing that you probably won't get the same chance again.

Ang tanga-tanga mo, Joshie. You're such a fool.

Yeah. That was me today. ME. I did that, I was a fool. Blardy hell, a downright, dumb fool. Estupidx. *sigh*

With medication for diabetes, I've finally begun to feel better, and I so decided to test the waters for a new job. It's been so long since I've worked that this interview was nothing short of a miracle. So on Tuesday, I travelled from Elk Grove to Cathedral City to visit members of my family – y'know, say hello, eat dinner, watch episodes of Wildflower (great show, you should watch it) before traversing to Arcadia to stay at a hotel Wednesday night. I awakened this morning – pumped up and ready to go – hurrah, I can do things for myself again! Yay! After several years on the mend after a workplace fall, I greatly missed my old lifestyle, and I was desperate to start cranking things again. I wanted to be who I was.

The job was a nice office job, and they offered to relocate me to Southern California. The interview was surprisingly easy and I was hired on the spot – which made me suspect someone *ahem* had a hand in it. A lot of East Asians work at the office, and I heard a lot of Mandarin and Korean spoken in the corridors. I could pick bits and pieces with my meagre Mandarin, notably the Mandarin word for “Filipino”. It made me feel rather um, a bit awkward, despite having Chinese ancestry. In situations like this, one is made to feel very brown, very mixed-race, very Latin, very Maritime Southeast Asian, indeed, very Filipinx. Anyway, the head honchxs were thrilled to have me, as they gave me a little tour round the office, introduced to me to my new co-workers, and showed me my new cleaned-out cubicle. I closed my eyes, inhaled the freshened, conditioned office air, and thought to myself – finally, finally I can be successful and be my own person again.

But. There's always, you've guessed it, a but. Whenever I commence a new beginning in my life, there is always a wretched nostalgia that keeps me bound to the past. I just can't help it. That's the way I am.

And so I was sat in my new cubicle, I thought of him again. I tried my best to push him out of my mind this morning, and to the best of my ability, I did. But as I sat there in my cubicle, I couldn't stop thinking of my ex. Because really, it isn't fair that I should feel utterly pleased and well-chuffed with myself as he wallows in sullen misery with the flu. Needless to say, I felt like a heartless bitch – I justified it for the sake of self-preservation – but rubbing one's success in another's face bears the same emotions as throwing someone beneath a bus. Gloating would do nothing to heal my heart and his.

I spent most of the day agonising how I would tell my supervisor that I didn't want the job after all. It was too soon to work again, and to be quite honest, I didn't want to work for a corporation. Some of my new co-workers were friendly, but I didn't feel like socialising. All I could think about my ex in an Oakland apartment, alone with the cat, sobbing the night away. Because I certainly wept nights over him too, and I did feel a sense of responsibility toward him. You don't just ditch someone you love[d] and not think about that person – that person will be on your mind for quite some time. So I tried to weasel myself out of the job, but they were so eager, I felt I'd probably squash someone's feelings. They handed me orientation booklet after orientation booklet. Finally, my shift came to an end, and my new bosses invited me for dinner.

I was just like, crivens. I have to break it to them over dinner?! And I was just feeling so sad and disconsolate because how the hell does someone reject a rather fine offer because one feels bound to a guy who is probably over me already? How, tell me how?!

So I had dinner with the suits and blazers. I had an asparagus risotto and a sauvignon blanc. And as I broke it to them, I fought back the tears. “The truth is, I'm grateful for this offer, but I cannot accept this job.” Of course they were stunned. Nobody gives this opportunity up. When asked why, I said, “My heart left someone behind and I cannot in good conscience abandon him to his own devices. I fear my heart would not be able to cope without his love and support in any major transition in my life.” The answer was sufficient, and with some disappointment, they let me go. Why shouldn't they? They'd be obliged to let me go as a moral duty.

I returned to the hotel feeling sorry for myself, pouting all the way in the cab. As I waited for the lift, a man smiled at me, and I faked a smile back. He continued gazing at me in the lift until we were alone – quite creepy. It was then he said these words: “I'm sure somewhere your father would be so proud to know that you truly possess a soul. Well done.”

He left the lift and within me was unlocked a wellspring of tears.

3 February 2018

Saint Pedro Calungsod: Deconstructing myths around nationalism and imperialism



I'm hesitant to write this piece. Because the story of Saint Pedro Calungsod swirls a plethora of complex emotions within me, a mixed-race Filipinx who reconciles contrasting cultures on a daily basis. There is a conflict of narratives: One espoused by the Roman Catholic Church and the Spanish imperial tradition, and another from the standpoint of the indigenous Chamorro people. And the consequential stories did not end there, but continued in history beyond the island of Guam and still continue in the stories of the People of Guam and the Philippines. The story of Saint Pedro Calungsod – San Pedro Calonsor – is first and foremost, a story of conflict. A cultural, political, and religious clash between the Roman Catholic Church, Chinese commerce, the Spanish Empire, Philippine emigrants, the indigenous Chamorro people, and their local religious and political leaders. Although I'm writing from the perspective of a Filipinx diasporan, and primarily address Filipinxs, I do not mean to exclude any of my readers who may not be of Filipinx ancestry.

On 2 April 1672, the 17 year-old Saint Pedro Calungsod was martyred on a beach in odium fidei with the Blessed Diego Luis de San Vitores in Guam, then part of the Spanish East Indies along with the Philippines. A Chinese merchant named Choco, envious of the influence of the two missionaries, had spread rumours after they baptised several infants who later died. Supported by the shamans of the island, the chisme spread rapidly. Choco claimed the baptismal water was poisonous and swayed the the local elite, some of whom were converts, either into recanting their new-found faith or resisting it altogether if not already baptised. However, the wife of a local chieftain gave birth to a daughter, and against the wishes of her husband, had her baptised. Enraged on learning of his daughter's baptism, the local chieftain, Matapang, ordered the death of the two missionaries. So on a fine sunny day, the two missionaries, who had gathered some people to chant and sing praises to God on a beach, were speared through and hacked to death. Their bodies were denuded and set afloat to sea, and the pastoral cross, which Blessed Diego Luis held in his hand, was bashed into pieces with a stone to uttered blasphemies.

That is a reduction of the story – a great contrast to the story of the reception and naturalisation of the Santo Niño by Rajah Humabon and Rani Juana on the island of Cebu. As I've said before, I approach this story with hesitation, and a great deal of fear and trembling. Firstly, because the story neglects the indigenous Chamorro people, reducing them to subalterns in a story that should be primarily about them. Some may argue with me for the sake of republicanism - “But Matapang was a tyrant!”. Yes, this is true. But that doesn't justify violent imperialism, nor is it justified with the deaths of many indigenous Chamorros who died for a lack of immunity to diseases brought over by Spanish, and perhaps even Chinese, colonisers. Just as medieval plague victims (and mind you, the plague was brought over from East Asia, which is considered “Old World” like Europe) are often reduced to a number in mass graves, we also forget the many Chamorros who died in the conquest and subjugation of the island of Guam. They are not just a figure, but individual human beings with names surely known by a compassionate God who continues to love them. God suffered with them and wept with them, and surely God lovingly embraced them in death, baptised or not. They were silent bystanders in a story of a power struggle between two empires and the tyranny of local, insular nationalism. In the present day, under American administration, the People of Guam are still denied a vote in the United States Congress, alongside another former Spanish colony, Puerto Rico.

Secondly, it's easy to appropriate the story of Pedro Calungsod for anti-Chinese rhetoric and far-right nationalism in the Philippines, a successor state to the Spanish and United States imperial traditions. Choco is the clear contravida (villain) in this story, and the local indigenous people simply became his cronies, thereby forsaking their own sovereignty and faculties of reason. As the Philippines contend with the People's Republic of China over national sovereignty and territorial integrity in the West Philippine Sea, it's remarkably easy to return to the anti-Chinese rhetoric we inherited from Spain and the United States. It's effortless to dehumanise and portray Chinese people as the godless communist peril come to mass colonise the Philippines, especially with stereotype of Chinese Filipinxs as greedy triad members robbing the people of their money. Whilst that fear is valid to a narrow and limited extent, we know that for the majority of Chinese Filipinxs, this simply isn't true. Because the martyrdom of Pedro Calungsod did plant the seed of Christianity in the hearts of many Chinese Filipinxs. Indeed, the catechism Pedro Calungsod is often depicted with, the Doctrina Christiana, was not only published in Spanish, but translated into Tagalog and Chinese. 

Historically, Chinese Filipinxs were the most Hispanised of all non-white Philippine groups, adopting Spanish as a mother tongue, converting to Roman Catholicism, and absorbing and imbibing many Iberian and Latin American influences in cuisine, dress (traje), traditions, and customs. All too often, we forget that they were also victims of a repressive, paranoid Spanish colonial regime that instituted pogroms against unconverted Chinese to limit their numbers. Although we are quick to point out the warmongering lyrics of the national anthem of the People's Republic of China, we are too quick to forget that for much of Philippine history, as the Philippines are a colonial construct, Chinese Filipinxs lived under and within the distance of Spanish cannons.

Thirdly, the story of Pedro Calungsod reduces indigenous Filipinxs into sidekicks and tools of imperialism. Although Diego Luis de San Vitores is still a “blessed”, and not technically a canonised “saint”, so that the story is centred on Pedro Calungsod as the exalted, civilised, Christianised native, it still glorifies an imperial tradition. Pedro Calungsod, a Visayan like myself, was educated in Spanish and Latin, received a classical education, and was trained as a catechist and a sacristan – a faint foretelling of the death of the Philippine national hero, Dr. José Rizal. He was a product of European Christian missionary zeal and Western education, an example whereby Europeans could justify their civilising mission of cultural and religious supremacy, predating Rudyard Kipling's poem The White Man's Burden. History does not treat intelligent Westernised, Christian Filipinxs too kindly; in acquiring Western education and excelling at it, Filipinxs have been “put in their place” so often that sometimes we may even be killed for believing ourselves equal to whites. To survive, therefore, one must play dumb, maintain a low profile, and never outshine the white master. Of course, all of this leads to the question, “What was Pedro Calungsod doing there in the first place?” Unpaid, and assured only with the joys of heaven in the scriptures and sacraments, there was little to suggest he was nothing more than a slave, an alipin indebted by utang na loob, to a priest for all intents and purposes save for the name. Whilst we decry radical suicide bombers who desire the joy of seventy-two virgins in heaven, for such a young man to give up his own freedom willingly and risk death merely for the sake of heavenly joys is no different and no less extreme. Pedro Calungsod was merely a tool and pawn of aggressive, virulent imperial conquest, made gentle only by a brown face preaching a salvific gospel that was meant to set captives free. 

It's easy to overromanticise the story of a young man, who out of “filial piety” to a Spanish missionary, faithfully stayed by his side to the end. But I wonder about his final moments on earth – los últimos suspiros antes de morir – those moments wherein he bravely dodged Matapang's spears and the final agony he felt as a spear finally hit its agile target. He had every opportunity to escape, but he choose to remain with San Vitores after Deuteronomy 31.6 and St. John 15.13. A brown Jesus, born of a dark and lovely mother (Song of Solomon 1.5), was crucified on that day.

Finally, this story affects me in a most personal way, especially with how I struggled and continue to struggle with overcoming my own trauma. Several years ago, I was brutally raped. I don't want to go into the details, but thereafter, I delved into work for a corporation wholeheartedly, pushing any thought of what had happened to me away, until one day, I collapsed at work, and became physically ill. With no structure to my weekly schedule, I subsequently fell apart and sank into mental depression, shutting myself into a protective shell. In many ways, my story is that of the Philippines and perhaps the Guam of today, brought low by the trauma of imperialism and several wars, and frightened of the world beyond its shores.

And yet here I am. Here we are, you and me, still alive, our hearts of flesh still beating inside our chests. Whilst we live, our hearts beat for love, because to live is to love. The rapid throb of our hearts in times of fear and anxiety is only a yearning to be truly loved, cherished, and cared for, even within our protective shells. No person, after a traumatic event, immediately takes the risk to be vulnerable and to love again. It takes time, but one must be gentle with oneself before risking intimacy. But nonetheless, the past has happened, and it cannot be changed. What we must strive for is the redemption of our present and future. And that is where love comes in. Although we may see Pedro Calungsod as a pawn of imperialism, there is no denying that he believed the Gospel of Christ and did all this for the sake of love. Courage, that is, to have a heart, is an affirmation of life itself. Even in the worst of times, we must have the courage to continue singing.

As Guam continues to strive for self-determination under United States imperialism, and as the Philippines may risk a potential world war over its national territory, there is a temptation to withdraw and delve into our own little cocoons, terrified of the other, and insecure of the love we have in our hearts. Perfect love casts out fear (1 St. John 4.18), and perhaps the anxiety we experience, although valid, stems from not knowing how loved we are. We have built up so much resistance. So one asks, “Have we any faith? Where is our faith?” With faith, hope, and love in our hearts, can we let down our guard in trust? Yes, there is a fear of mass colonisation by the People's Republic of China, and of drowning our unique voices out. Yes, this doesn't detract from the fact that East Asians should respect the unique voices of Filipinxs, because in many ways East Asians are predominant and hypervisible on the world stage. But with Christianity on the rise in the PRC, to surpass that of the US by 2030, and the enthusiasm of many Chinese to learn English, Spanish, Portuguese, and even indigenous Philippine languages, is our fear justified? Can we embrace the PRC with love and compassion, and in doing so, perhaps save its soul? The way I see it, it won't be the PRC influencing the Philippines so much, but Filipinxs evangelising a nation so desperate for God, conscience, and indeed, human rights.

We can't undo the past, as previously mentioned. The landmarks and the imprint of our colonial and imperial past are still there, must we can make them less hurtful, and redeem them for good. Reconciliation is messy work, but for God's sake, it needn't be bloody. Over the years, I've slowly but surely delved out of my cocoon and the walls I've built around myself. Because it does get a little lonely to lock myself up. Little by little I've learnt that it hurts more to isolate oneself than to experience the world outside my own little box. Because yes, there is a risk of getting hurt again, but when we do find love, or rather, when love finds us, we feel no regrets for stepping outside and risking it all. Asking where my faith stands is a question I've asked myself time and time again. Do I trust God enough to see me through the boundaries I've set for myself whilst respecting the boundaries of another person? Do I trust God enough to end my suspicions, love another person, and allow that person to love me? The trauma I've experienced over the years imprisoned me so much that I became an anima sola, without any comfort and solace. Without that love and support, I cannot heal. If I cannot welcome the stranger and refugee with love, compassion, and hospitality, even at the risk of my life, I might as well burn in my own wretched misery.

God is good. With faith in Christ, God will give us the courage to live and die, and rise again to die no more. That is the power of fearless love. A love that hopes, believes, and trusts God enough to break down the walls that divide us and separate us from each other. A love grounded on faith. And I pray God will perfect the love in my heart. A love like that of Saint Pedro Calungsod, a foreigner who lovingly gave his life for the Chamorro people, and even for someone like Choco. God gave him the courage to live and die, and God will raise him again from the dead to die no more.

And by the way, if you must know, I forgive you with all my heart.  

25 June 2017

If this wretched physical illness should take me, I hope that upon my death, the seed of empathy and compassion will germinate in those who didn't believe me and stood idly by.

22 March 2016

Dignity

I think every human has a point wherein she or he will activate a “self-preservation mode” to save what dignity she or he has left. I am activating that “mode”, if I can call it such, now.

Many of you have known me prior to the incident on 23 June 2012. Since that date, I have progressed emotionally, mentally, physically, and spiritually for the worse. I am not the same Joshua you once knew. I have mentally unravelled to the point that some of you can no longer recognise me. In comparing myself now with who I was then, I was very stable, quite independent, more confident, more patient, and very articulate. As I can no longer rely on the skills that have carried me through, simple tasks have become challenging.

Despite my hopes, prayers, and dreams that I will recover from my illness, I have gradually come to realise that like a dream, who I was then is gone. Who I was then is now dead and I will progressively become worse. Any hope I have for justice and for healing is now lost – I cannot be helped. And I know some of the dreams I have (including some of the dreams I ramble about on Twitter) realistically can never be fulfilled. Gradually I will lose my wits and become more childlike, more dim, and more reliant on others.

Life has dealt me a heavy blow: I must accept my fate and bear it with dignity, bravery, and courage. I suppose that in accepting the God of Calvin I must not resist what has been done to me, but rather order myself lowly and humbly, surrendering and resigning myself to what I hope is God's mercy. If I must walk through hell on earth, I must do so with my head held high. I can choose to see myself as the victim and wallow in self-pity or choose to see myself as the victor. In choosing the latter, I must overcome my emotions and grit my teeth through what I know will be challenging for me in later years. I survived infancy beyond anyone's expectations, I have survived taunts in my adolescence, car accidents, slippery showers, food poisoning, a rape and an attempt on my life in my adult years, yet I am still here. And despite humiliation, insult, and injury, I have trudged on.

I hope that whilst there is time, that is, whilst I have my wits, I can live joyfully, seizing every moment before I descend further into mental darkness and physical illness. I know not whether my time with you will be long or short, but I pray God make it meaningful. But as time progresses, I will become become more eruptive in expressing my thoughts, less patient, unreasonable, less discriminating about the information I share, and more infantile. I know some of you will turn your backs on me. And I know it's not because you hate me, but rather you can't bear to see the gradual loss of the friend you once knew. Please remember the good times we shared. I hope when you think of me they will only be happy memories. But as I confront my future, I will do my best to affirm life and to maintain composure throughout. I have no strength to fight anymore.

I am what I am: I am the sum of my ancestors. As life continues in revolution, I can only persist with head unbowed save only to the One before whom all must bow and obey. Sometimes we pay a heavy price for who we are. But difficult as it may seem when beset by so much traumatic change, I can only extend grace, compassion, and forgiveness. I must faithfully carry on with pride, dignity, and integrity.

Because I know who I am and I know what my duty is. God help me, because I can place my trust in no other.

But if I have only one regret, it is solely that I did not live life to the fullest prior to that fateful day in the summer of 2012. I could have done so much good with my life. Indeed, I could have accomplished great things. Alas, it was not meant to be. 


Have thine own way, Lord, have thine own way. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. 

13 February 2016

On revenge

"Justice is the constant and perpetual desire to give to each one that to which he is entitled. Jurisprudence is the knowledge of matters divine and human, and the comprehension of what is just and what is unjust."
Institutes, Bk. 1, title 1.
Several times in our lives we will entertain thoughts of revenge. It feels satisfying to somehow give someone their “due” as if it will make us better people. But vengeance is a paltry salve for a deep, festering emotional wound or injury. One could say it is a small bandage over a large gash. And it's not okay to leave it at that. One must clean the emotional wound and apply a “poultice” of love and care to draw the bitterness and emotional toxins out.

At least in my experience, the desire for vengeance stems from a sense of powerlessness. In receiving emotional trauma, one succumbs to the dominance of another and is left feeling inadequate or inferior. For many of us, including myself, we are already conditioned to submit to the authority of another, sometimes because of race. Members of my own family would shrirk back in fear when their white bosses scolded them and this left an impression on me that remains with me today – the tears, drunken complaints, or angry shouts when a parent or a relative comes home from a hard day's work. Growing up in the Filipino American community, I was told not to play with white children, despite being part white myself, as white people were litigation-prone, and should anything happen to their child, they'd sue. When Filipinos are caught in a dispute with a white person or an Asian of another ethnic group, they feel bound to let the other win, believing somehow that in gracious defeat and outward obeisance, things may be a little better than losing everything.

And lest anyone think it is solely a racial or cultural “thing”, Filipinos hurt fellow Filipinos too, sometimes to the point of abuse and even slavery or exploitation. Colonial mentality has been cited many times as the malaise afflicting post-colonial Filipinos; this is an example par excellence. As justice must be tempered with mercy, so can power and authority be abused instead of tempered with justice. Colonial mentality is not always the conditioned inferiority we show to others because of race, but rather the desire to oppress, to steal, to kill, and to destroy because we have no other example but what has been handed down to us by oppressors. 

So whilst we may cower in fear, in the storerooms and backs of restaurants, in the janitor closets and maid lounges, in break rooms and offices, we commiserate in our bitterness, swallowing it in, allowing the poisons of anger and hatred to cloud our judgments and give rise to delusions of dominance. Again, whilst it feels good temporarily, it makes us no better than those who hurt us. Meeting dominance with dominance simply replaces an oppressor with another oppressor. The cycle repeats. An injustice cannot be met with another injustice.

There is an oft-quoted maxim that “Equity delights in equality.” In what ways do we deem ourselves inferior or superior to others? In what ways do we deem others inferior or superior to ourselves? Is it racial, cultural, related to gender or sexual orientation, or perhaps even religious? And here's the tough question, in what ways can we forgive AND assert our human dignity without degrading the human dignity of the other?

I don't think vengeance is the way. I admit forgiveness is something I'm working hard on, but failing miserably at. Perhaps forgiveness is something you are working at too. It is a healing process. It doesn't help when we are told to forgive continuously by those who hurt us. In the backs of our minds, our torturers will get away because of privilege or won't be brought to justice. And it's alright to feel angry at inequity, inequality, and injustice. But it's not alright to let that anger become and consume us. Somehow, we must allow God's grace to transform and transmute our hurt and anger to pursue the ends of justice: Compassion, love, and charity. By such reparations, a moral debt - an obligation - is extinguished and reconciliation achieved. And that, I believe, is justice. 

Pray for me as I pray for you. God bless you, and may we share God's blessing. Amen.  

21 October 2015

On Inter-Asian Racism

When I was in high school, I was accused of something that was taken out of context by a white teacher. Now, I'm not against employing white teachers in areas that happen to be majority Asian, but there must be some effort on part of teachers to understand their students, the dynamics, and the community wherein they live.

I grew up in Milpitas, which transformed from a majority-white town to a majority-Asian city with sizable white and Latino minorities. There a paradigm shift between old and new, and a cultural 'battle' between the descendants of Anglo-Celtic, Spanish, Mexican, Portuguese settlers and its new Asian residents. Of course, some Asian residents weren't that new, as a sizable Asian minority did live in Milpitas back then. Some white residents were blatant: "Asians are taking over" or "Go back to Asia". Whilst some were bitter and angry, I cannot forget those who did welcome Asian and Latino groups with open arms - churches and hospitals began offering more services in Vietnamese, Mandarin, Spanish, Tagalog, and Cantonese; whites began to speak Asian languages and Spanish - to cite examples.

Indeed, Asians aren't one cohesive group - we are different ethnic groups, of different religions, languages, and cultures. The 'orientalizing' factor projected by some is a product of a Western mindset that seeks to objectify the 'other' as 'foreign' and un-American. I have been a victim of this, and many of my fellow students then were - having been subjected to the assumptions of teachers who told us, mostly Asian students with American passports, "that's not how we do it in this country" or "that's not the American way".

I happened to be a student right when Asian students would be the majority in Milpitas schools. Into this pan-Asian mix were also entrenched community rivalries from the 'Old World'. It's not crude to call it racism. If Anglo-Americans could bully Irish-Americans, bringing old prejudices from Europe to the 'New World', certainly Asians can do it to Asians. It was and is racism. And it's not fair when racism is projected on another who is used as a convenient scapegoat.

Of course, once I tell you this, there will be some who won't believe me - I can't blame them. But it is a memory that haunts me to this day.

There are wonderful things about Chinese culture and there are wonderful things about Filipino culture - but as prejudice against Filipinos and other minorities in China must stop, so must prejudice against Chinese and other minorities in the Philippines cease. The same pattern can be found all over Asia - a harbored prejudice toward minorities similar to South African xenophobia. That isn't to say that some Chinese Filipinos don't have prejudices against the Philippine majority as some Filipino Chinese have their own prejudices against the Han majority in China.

But let me get to the point: I am a mixed-race Filipino. I have indigenous Malay, Chinese, Spanish, Portuguese, and Sephardic Jewish blood flowing in my veins. And when I told two pure-blooded Chinese students, Jason Lau and Jennie Chen, to stop bullying me, even citing a Chinese aunt, who said such racist behavior is 'disgraceful', I was assaulted and battered in an empty brass section room, punched and held to the wall by the neck. (He was tall and I was/still am short, so I was effectively being choked.) Another student, Peter Neddersen, walked in and Mr. Lau promptly stopped.

I ran to the color guard room and wept for an hour - I was excused from band class by the instructor, but only told the instructor, Chris Kaldy, that I had been battered. After class, Mr. Lau and Miss Chen, yelled at me, saying that my tears were only to make them look bad. But that wasn't the case. I was severely traumatized.

The next day, I received a referral notice - which is a disciplinary notice - for suspension. On it, Mr. Kaldy had written that I had told Mr. Lau and Miss Chen that I called them a disgrace and that it was a racist remark on my part. Mr. Lau and I were sent to the assistant principal's office where Mr. Lau made it appear as if it he were defending his girlfriend's honor. I defended myself, saying it was not my intent to be racist. Racism was then projected on me, and I couldn't defend myself sufficiently, even though I was only the mixed-race messenger for another Chinese person's admonition. I knew Mr. Kaldy and the assistant principal (whose name I do not remember) wouldn't understand the dynamics of Chinese-Filipino relations and how these were and are also played in American communities.

Obviously, in many ways, the Philippines was and is the weaker player in the Asian region; China (the PRC and Taiwan) is economically powerful. For many Californian communities, Chinese Americans and other Asian Americans are more dominant socioeconomically; this is why Filipino Americans requested a separate box on forms in California as they would be underrepresented by other Asians.

Filipinos have been discriminated by Chinese (in both China and the Philippines) as dumb, ignorant, subservient, dark-skinned 'dogs of Western masters', fit only for servile tasks. In the Philippines, Chinese have been portrayed as corrupt, immoral gangsters who only want money at the expense of conscience. Of course, these are stereotypes. However, Chinese and Whites do have privilege in the Philippines, and unsurprisingly this can sometimes play out in interracial or inter-Asian community relations in the United States.

I refused to serve the sentence of suspension and my parents approved of my action. When a parental conference was called to resolve the matter, my parents adamantly refused to attend, knowing that it would be manipulated again to place all the blame on me. I didn't serve the sentence, but I'm pretty sure the referral remained (and remains) as a blot on my school record.

After all, it was unbelievably unfair. While I was to receive punishment (which I didn't serve), Mr. Lau would escape (not to mention that he smiled at me as he walked out of the assistant principal's office) scot-free even if he assaulted and battered me. Mr. Lau knew he was in the wrong and did everything he could to make it appear that I deserved to be battered and harmed.

Did this experience embitter me against Chinese people? No, absolutely not. I think the opposite happened, as my appreciation for my partial Chinese ancestry deepened. Being multi-racial is a multi-faceted blessing - one has a variety of cultural sources to draw upon. The majority of Chinese people are good people - indeed they are part of my family. And because of my family that I can stand proud in the knowledge that I am right, even though I was falsely accused.

So does it help to have a judge who is so far removed from the context that impartiality becomes a hindrance to justice? Justice isn't that blind.

3 November 2014

Prayers to Saint Dwynwen

In the Name of the Father, + and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

O Blessed Saint Dwynwen, you who knew pain and peace, division and reconciliation, you have promised to aid lovers and you watch over those whose hearts have been broken. As you received three boons from an angel, intercede for me to receive three blessings; to obtain my heart's desire [here you may mention a name] or, if that is not God's will, a speedy healing from my pain; your guidance and assistance, that I may find love with the right person, at the right time, and in the right way; and an unshakable faith in the boundless kindness and wisdom of God. And this I ask in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Saint Dwynwen, we beseech you: Comfort lovers whose vision is unclear. Send mending to those with love lost. Protect our companions. In your name we seek to do the same. In your name we choose love first. With the love of you, Mary and of Jesus Christ. Amen.

Recite one Paternoster, Avemaria, Gloria Patri, and Trisagion.

Saint Dwynwen, pray for us.

+ The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all evermore. Amen.

29 October 2014

An Innovative Double-Arras (Wedding Coins) Ceremony

There are two traditional ways of performing the ceremony. I have dispensed with both. Dribbling coins into each other's hands is quite risky (dropping coins is seen as bad luck) and the cleric and partners passing the coins among themselves seems to be outdated. Instead, I have created an 'arras-exchange ceremony' wherein both partners commit to a life of stewardship. 

After the ring ceremony, two trays, boxes, or pouches/purses of coins are brought to the altar. The Celebrant may say 

All things come from you, O Lord.
And of your own, we give you.

The Celebrant blesses the coins, using one of these two forms.

A long form for the blessing of the wedding coins

We give you thanks, O Father, for all your blessings:
For the bounty of gifts, talents, and knowledge;
for values, wisdom, experience, and expertise;
for reason, memory, and skill;
and for who we are and what we bring in offering.
Bless + these coins, O Lord,
as signs of the spiritual and temporal blessings
wherewith you enriched N and N;
and as they commit themselves to a life of stewardship,
daily renew in them the choicest gifts in your Holy Spirit,
and grant them the abundance of your grace,
a spirit of generosity and hospitality,
and such creativity, inspiration, and compassion,
that they may sanctify, use, and multiply these gifts
to the advancement of your Kingdom and the spread of the Gospel,
and to the attainment of everlasting life.
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. 

A short form for the blessing of the wedding coins

Bless + these coins, O Lord,
as signs of the spiritual and temporal blessings 
wherewith you enriched N and N;
and as they commit themselves to a life of stewardship,
grant them the abundance of your grace, 
that they may use and multiply these gifts
to the attainment of everlasting life.
through Christ our Lord. Amen. 

The Celebrant may say


N and N, be good and faithful stewards of each other and of God’s gifts.

Each partner gives the other the coins, and repeats these words after the Celebrant

N, I give you these coins as a pledge of my dedication and concern for your welfare, and as a sign of my commitment to our marriage, in the Name of the Father, and the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. 

Each partner may respond, saying after the Celebrant

N, I accept these coins, and the dedication, love, and support you offer, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.  

If desired, a symbolic tithe from each each box, tray, or pouch/purse may be given to the Celebrant.

The service continues with the Pronouncement. 

Joshua Ligan 2014.
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26 October 2014

On the middle finger

In 3rd grade I sat at my desk reading a ditto. Across from me sat a classmate named Freddy Goerlitzer. It’s odd that I still remember his name. We quietly began our seatwork, and reading the instructions, I pointed the words out with my middle finger. Freddy saw this, raised his hand, and yelled, “Mrs. Rode, Mrs. Rode, Josh stuck out his middle finger! Josh stuck out his middle finger!”

Outraged, Mrs. Rode bellowed, “In the hall... NOW!”

I was shocked. What had I done? What was so wrong about pointing with the middle finger?

My name was written on the chalkboard, and I was given a thorough berating in the hall. “I know you come from a Christian family, and this, with all your knowledge of the love of God, is totally unexpected. I am disappointed in you.” She wagged a finger in my face, continued berating my Christian background and my family, and told me how bad I was for pointing with my middle finger. Freddy also accused me of pointing it at him. The tip of my finger may have been pointed in his direction, but it lacked the intent of insult or non-verbal injury to his dignitas and fama.

Now that I think about it, I actually feel sorry for Mrs. Rode. What was her problem with the Church and Christians? But I digress.

In my shock, I stood there in the hall with my mouth agape, not knowing if I should defend myself. I didn’t ask what I did wrong or what pointing the middle finger meant. I was totally clueless, but she presumed I knew what that gesture meant. She had never bothered to ask if I knew the meaning.  And I simply accepted her verdict.

I do come from a good Christian family, and an immigrant family at that, and they did not teach me the idiosyncrasies of American body language. For many Asian American families, the home is practically a cultural capsule. Step inside, and one is in the old country. Step outside, and one is in the United States. The language spoken at home may be English, sometimes with another language mixed in, but culturally one remains in the old country. I was this sheltered from the realities of American life.

For many East Asians, pointing the middle finger has only begun to take on the American meaning. Many still point at things (although it is more polite to use one’s hand or a full swoop of a hand), words, and even people with their middle finger. I shudder when an old lady points to something with her middle finger at the supermarket, because I remember that moment  the cultural barrier came down when as a child.

That day, I went home, cried, and told my parents what happened at school. My mother, being a devout Protestant, blankly looked at me as I told her I was scolded for pointing with my middle finger. Flummoxed, she asked my father, “Whatever does that mean?” In a hushed tone, my father, also a devout Protestant who lived in the fear of an ever-watching Almighty God, whispered, “It means ‘Fuck you’.”

We all gasped over tea. My Roman Catholic aunt choked on her tea and violently coughed. “Aba, yung ang meaning?” Lo, is that the meaning?

But something I do wish my parents had done was to speak to my teacher. They did nothing to confront an injustice. We let someone else define who I am. We accepted her truth. And I’m not going to say it was a racist incident. It was simply a cultural misunderstanding. This is American multiculturalism.

Sometimes, it makes me shudder. Is this how badly we think of other people? Have we, as an American people, become so judgmental that we transmit our negativity to others? Do we assume the worst of others? Are we that inclined to think of others so unjustly? When did the presumption of innocence cease as an American cultural value? Or are we entitled to galloping around the village on a witch-hunt?


That day, among many days throughout my childhood, was a day when my eyes were opened. I had lost a bit of my own innocence. Sometimes, I wish never had.  

19 September 2013

A lost world: What happened to Hindu-Buddhist, Animist Philippines?

When the Spaniards came to the Philippines, they halted the spread of Islam already taking root with the governing class. Although Islam was already entrenched on parts of the southern Island of Mindanao, the people of Luzon and the Visayas still clung to traditional beliefs as their rulers began flirting with Islam. Decades later, after the arrival of the Spaniards, the Islands were almost entirely Roman Catholic. The majority of the people, as subjects of the Crown of Spain, were won for the Cross of Christ.

Before colonization, Filipinos worshipped anitos, nature spirits called diwatas, and a variety of Hindu-Buddhist entities such as the goddess Saraswati, the bodhisattva Avalokitesvara (in his Indic male form, not Guanyin, the Chinese female form), the bodhisattva Tara, and Kinnari. Hindu and Buddhist statues have been found all over the Philippines, attesting to the links the Islands had with the South Asian region, China, the Srivijaya Empire, and the Majapahit Empire. Sanskrit words entered many Filipino languages – a telltale sign that Hinduism and Mahayana Buddhism (treated as one religion) had taken root instead of Theravada Buddhism. (Theravada Buddhism uses Pali as a liturgical language.)

So what happened to the traditions of Hindu-Buddhist, Animist Philippines?

I believe many of the pre-colonial traditions survive under the guise of Folk Catholicism. Many Filipino Roman Catholics, Anglicans (Episcopalians), and Aglipayans don’t realize that some of these traditions unique to Filipino Christianity, are actually of so-called Pagan origin. Many Christian liturgical traditions are, so it is nothing but a continuing tradition of adaption, inculturation, and renewal of the old.

Ancestral traditions are pretty difficult to shake off.  The early Filipino Catholics might have simply adapted these old traditions, or creative Spanish Friars might have adapted Christian liturgical tradition to fill the vacuum left by the abandonment of traditional beliefs.

These old traditions may have survived when Filipino Catholics light votive candles and lightly tap the flame or wave a hand over it, then make a sign of the cross. This is similar to actions done in Hindu pujas (aarti) and worship of Agni, the fire god.

These traditions may have survived when devotees wave candles at the statue of the Sovereign Christ Child in the Sinulog, a traditional devotional dance. This is similar to the act of waving candles in front of a statue in a Hindu puja.

These traditions may have survived in the Filipino Catholic devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, as a replacement for Saraswati, Tara, and the various moon and sea goddesses worshipped all over the archipelago.

These traditions may have survived as every Holy Week, Filipino Catholics chant the story of salvation and redemption, from the Creation to the story of the early Church, in a practice called Pabasa (literally ‘reading’) or Pasyon ('Passion'). This is similar to the chanting of Hindu epics such as the Ramayana (which survives in non-Christian Filipino minorities).  Ethnomusicologists have found that the traditional tunes, although now Hispanized, are pre-colonial in origin. These tunes still contain melismas reminiscent of classical Indian, Sundanese, Javanese, and Balinese music.

These traditions may have survived in the fertility dances many Philippine women perform for the Blessed Virgin Mary and a myriad of saints.

These traditions may have survived as Filipino Catholics hang garlands of sampaguita on crucifixes, statues of Jesus, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the saints. Floral offerings may look like traditional Balinese floral offerings. Palm leaves are also woven into many shapes like crosses, monstrances, chalices, churches, and these are blessed on Palm Sunday.

These traditions may have survived as Filipino Catholics wash statues with Agua de Florida, Agua de Colonia, rose water, or orange flower water, and vest them with miniature copes. This practice is similar to the bathing of Buddha on his birthday with sweetened tea or perfumed water, and how many Buddhists clothe statues of the bodhisattva Ksitigarbha.

These traditions may have survived as Filipino Catholics ask their ancestors (as part of the communion of saints) to intercede for them, that they might be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

These traditions may have survived as more traditional Filipino Catholics place food on a plate for visiting ancestors on Christian holy days (so that the dead might dine with the living), or offer food, fruit, flowers, and candles before pictures of the deceased on their death anniversaries. Another reminder of the communion of saints - the Church Triumphant, the Church Suffering/Aspirant, and the Church Militant.

These traditions may have survived as flagellants literally crucify themselves on Good Friday in rites reminiscent of Thaipusam. Medieval European Christians might have whipped themselves, but some modern day Filipinos are nailed on crosses – quite extreme.

These traditions may have survived as Filipino Catholics place a basket of exotic fruit on the family altar and dining tables at New Year’s. Mind you, “exotic" fruit in the Filipino sense might mean apples, pears, grapes, peaches, and cherries. Growing up in the Filipino American community, New Year’s fruit offerings consisted of mangoes, papayas, granadillas, mangosteen, lychees, soursop, pomegranates, coconuts, and longans – exotic in the Western sense.

These traditions may have survived as Filipino Catholics still show respect to old trees (particularly banyan trees – venerated in pre-colonial Philippines) in the vicinity, believing a diwata dwells there. The Paternoster, Ave Maria, or Trisagion might be said whilst passing by, or the sign of the cross might be made. Others might leave an offering of sweet rice cakes and arrack. 

These traditions may have survived in the form of San Nicolas cookies, which are arrowroot shortbread biscuits shaped in a form that looks akin to a Buddha or a Kinnari.

These traditions may have survived as processions of saints visit homes during fiestas, and when devotees wave scented handkerchiefs as processions pass by.

And because of my High Church Anglicanism, some of these traditions comfortably survive with me – nothing too extreme that my grandmother might have done. For example, I lightly touch the flame after lighting a candle and make the sign of the cross. Every Easter and New Year’s I open the all the doors and windows to let the morning light in, and recite the Paternoster in every room. At sunrise, I might go outside, close my eyes, and feel the morning sunshine on my face.  I ask my baptized ancestors to stand beside me and encourage me. I leave floral offerings and fruit to statues of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and vest her every May. I sprinkle gravestones with holy water or scented water when I visit my ancestors.

I can’t imagine abandoning what has been cherished for generations.

I believe the story that best captures the triumph of Christianity and the adaptation of pre-colonial tradition is the story of the dancing Santo Niño de Cebú. The Spaniards left the statue of the Christ Child with the Queen, only to be placed among non-Christian anitos and deities. People began to revere the statue of the Christ Child simply as another anito, and miracles were wrought among them. One day, one of Rajah Humabon's advisers was gravely ill. He was placed on a bed to lie in front of the Christ Child. A few hours later, a racket could be heard from the hut, and Rajah Humabon rushed thereto, to find his adviser standing and shouting, whole and completely well. Rajah Humabon asked, "My Lord, what is the problem?" His adviser angrily pointed at the statue and answered, "That child! That naughty, naughty child! He played a prank on me! Then he started dancing around the room and taunting me!" The adviser was completely oblivious to the fact he was miraculously healed. 

For me, that describes the seamless transition to Christianity.