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.