Posts Tagged ‘cultural studies’

pop goes the world: celebrating love and literature

POP GOES THE WORLD  By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today,  7 February 2013, Thursday

Celebrating Love and Literature

Once in a while I feature in this column the literary events of the season, and here’s what’s happening in this month of love:

* * * * *

When you have a lost a loved one, how do you mourn?

Each person finds a way of coping. Support groups help; articles and books yield valuable tips. But ultimately, each one deals with grief and the pain of loss on an individual basis.

University of Santo Tomas Faculty of Arts and Letters associate professor, published poet, and performance artist Nerisa del Carmen Guevara lost her beloved to violence last year. This year, she spearheaded an interdisciplinary project at UST that brings together 11 colleges including the College of Science and the Faculty of Medicine and Surgery in a collaborative effort that explores the many different forms and faces of love.

“Making: Love in Fourteen Collaborative Acts” will run from February 11 to 15 at the Main Lobby of the historic UST main building. It will showcase fourteen literary works – poems and excerpts from stories, essays, and plays – translated into other forms of art and science, all focused on love.

The project is organized under the wing of the UST Center for Creative Writing and Literary Studies (CCWLS) headed by Dr. Cristina Pantoja-Hidalgo (also professor emerita of the University of the Philippines College of Arts and Letters).

“Making: Love” carries further the old UST Creative Writing Center’s project “Brushes with Words and Chords,” which featured works of literature, painting, and music.

The artists and collaborators will be at the exhibit for meet-and-greet and photo opportunities. On closing night, they will read from or perform their work.

Professor Guevara invites the Thomasian community and the public to the event. She adds, “I will be performing on February 15. This performance is called “Elegy.” I have collaborated with an architect, a mathematician, and a musician. I asked them to build me a bridge between life and afterlife.”

This is a love-in of literary, artistic, and scientific proportions. Bring your Valentine to UST to witness, experience, and taste “Making: Love.”

* * * * *

This event comes soon after the revitalized CCWLS under Dr. Hidalgo revived the UST literary journal “Tomas,” during an event that also saw the blessing of the Center’s new offices.

Established in 1998, the center used to be under the Faculty of Arts and Letters but is now an autonomous unit under the Office of the Rector. “Tomas” will be published every semester.

But wait, there’s more from UST. “The Varsitarian,” UST’s 84-year-old student publication, is organizing the 5th UST J. Elizalde Navarro National Workshop in Criticism on the Arts and Humanities and is now accepting applications.

The workshop will be held in Baguio City from May 26 to June 1 this year.

Fellowships will be awarded to 12 promising young critics who wish to enhance their analytical, research, and writing skills. Applicants must submit a scholarly, properly documented essay, 15-25 pages, on the following art forms – painting, sculpture, architecture, dance, drama, music, film, photography, and literature – on or before March 15, along with an updated resume and a recommendation letter from an academic mentor or art critic.

Send email to workshop convener Associate Professor Ralph Semino Galan at ralphseminogalan@gmail.com for details.

* * * * *

The admirers of Jose Garcia Villa will have a chance to see books and papers from his personal library at the Ateneo de Manila University starting today, February 7, 4:30 pm, at the Pardo de Tavera Room of the Rizal Library Special Collections building.

The Villa Estate donated rare Filipiniana, documents, and ephemera to the Rizal Library. The exhibit runs until May 30.

* * * * *

Tomorrow, February 8, the Literature Section of the University of San Carlos will hold “Minugbo: A Forum on Contemporary Visual Media” in Cebu City.

The forum will feature lectures by Jiji Borlasa (who will speak about Cebuano filmmaking), Anne Lorraine Uy (storytelling through pictures), and Diem Judilla (cinematic writing for short films).

This is a parallel event of the short film contest sponsored by the Section.   *** 

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pop goes the world: what’s in a name?

POP GOES THE WORLD  By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today15 November 2012, Thursday

What’s In a Name?

Hi, I’m Jenny. My full name is Jennifer Maria Rebecca. What’s your name?

Chances are, perhaps eight times out of ten, you will answer me with a name that’s either Spanish or Anglo-Saxon in origin. Our names are, more often than not, Jose (nickname Joey), Reena, John Derek, Kevin, Luisa (nickname Louie), and so on, while down south, many names are Arabic in origin.

I know very few people who have names coming from the Philippine languages.

Many people will argue that the names we bear are family names (which is why there are so many “Juns”), traditional ones handed down from one generation to the next and thus have sentimental value regardless of ethnic origin; or saint’s names, therefore a religious reason.

But have so few realized that perpetuating such a practice shows that our collective mindset is still colonial, and that for reasons of emotion and inertia we cannot move away from the names given by the foreigners who imposed their religion and their culture on our forebears?

Some Filipinos have made a deliberate choice to reshape their personal identity along nationalistic lines by using Filipino names. The most famous example would be the De Guia family – economic researcher-turned-multi-awarded-filmmaker Eric took the name Kidlat Tahimik (quiet lightning), and his sons are named Kawayan (bamboo), Kabunyan (name of a deity), and Kidlat (lightning); Kabunyan’s son is named Kalipay (happiness), his wife is Malaya (freedom).

A friend, PhD candidate and University of the Philippines professor Julienne Baldo-Cubelo, named her son Alon (wave) and her daughter Diwa (consciousness), a decision she made to honor our culture and make a statement about her personal nationalistic advocacy and beliefs.

The word “diwa,” though, is one of the 300 or more Sanskrit loanwords in our language. So what would be considered genuine Philippine names – those coming from the Proto-Malayo-Polynesian language that is the root of the majority of Philippine languages? From the Old Malay influenced by Indian culture or the later Classic Malay with Arabic and Persian words? How far back in time do we go to find the language that should mark our true national identity?

Even without knowing that yet, though, I would rather take the loanwords given by the mostly peaceful Majapahit, Chinese, and Muslim traders over the Anglo and Spanish names foisted on our culture by colonizers.

How about the name of our beloved islands?

Dr. Nathan Quimpo, a political science professor at the University of Tsukuba, gives in his excellent essay “Colonial Name, Colonial Mentality, and Ethnocentrism” (2003) the history of our country’s name:

“Filipino comes from the word Filipinas, of which Philippines is the English translation. Felipinas was the name given by the Spanish explorer Ruy de Villalobos to Tendaya (Leyte or Samar) in 1543 in honor of the Spanish crown prince, Philip (Felipe in Spanish),who later became King Philip II (r. 1556-98)…

“From their very origins then, Philippines and Filipino are colonial names, and as such, are contradictory to the term nationalism. Simply on the basis of the colonial roots of Philippines, it can already be argued that the country´s name should be changed.

“Indeed, many former colonies have discarded their colonial appellations and adopted titles that are of more indigenous or un-colonial derivation: Burkina Faso, Namibia, Sri Lanka, Uruguay, Vanuatu and Zimbabwe.”

In addition to those examples, India has changed the names of many of its major cities from their British colonial spellings back to the local versions – to Mumbai from Bombay in 1995, Kolkata from Calcutta in 2001, and so forth.

I recall that when I was a young child in the 1970s, there was an attempt by then-president Ferdinand Marcos to change the country’s name to “Maharlika.”

There was opposition to the name change by those citing tradition and history, and Dr. Quimpo adds that according to one argument, Maharlika was inappropriate because in Sanskrit it means “big phallus!”

But “the main reason why Maharlika did not pass,” says Dr. Quimpo, “was that people saw it as Marcos’s ego trip.” This was the nom-de-guerre used by Marcos as a soldier during World War II.

There were other suggestions made by others through the years, among them “Rizal” (the country’s national hero), “Bayani” (the Tagalog word for “hero”), and “Luzviminda” (acronym of Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao, the three major island groups).

None of these were seriously considered; in fact it the whole thing is considered a non-issue by the majority of the nation’s people, who have more pressing matters to think about, such as how to put food on the table and keep a roof over their heads.

But if we are truly “proud to be Pinoy” as a myriad advertising taglines say, then why don’t we call each other by Filipino names?

Changing the country’s name could be something for future consideration, when our lawmakers aren’t too busy thinking about how to get re-elected or which American president’s speech or blogger’s article to plagiarize next.

What we can do, on our own as individuals, is initiate a slow and gradual culture change by taking nicknames and naming our children something that truly reflects the roots of our national identity.

Spain and America are part of our past, as other countries have been too, and we do owe a lot of what we are now, both good and bad, to their influences. The names of the children of OFWs and emigrants, born all over the world, echo the reality of the diaspora.

But this doesn’t mean we can’t and shouldn’t move on from the colonial mindset and reshape the ways we identify ourselves, and decide to let our names reflect what we truly stand for and believe in. *** 

Photo of Kidlat de Guia and Kidlat Tahimik here. Portrait of King Philip II of Spain here. Maharlika comics cover from the ’60s here.

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rumi says: where lovers find each other

“The minute I heard my first love story,
I started looking for you, not knowing

how blind that was.
Lovers don’t finally meet somewhere.
They’re in each other all along.” 

- Rumi

Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Balkhi, or Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi, was born 30 September 1207 in Wakhsh, part of the province of Balkh, in what is now Tajikistan.

Rumi was a giant of Persian literature, a poet and a mystic.  In his writings he explored how the human Ego seeks to reconcile with the Divine from which it sprang forth. It is through love, he said – through love.

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pop goes the world: we the people

POP GOES THE WORLD  By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today,  4 October 2012, Thursday

We the People

Since last Monday, avatars on Facebook and Twitter have been turning black one by one, like stars in the sky winking out.

With the Republic Act 10175 or the Cybercrime Law coming into effect yesterday, netizens are reacting in various ways to register their sentiments.

The smiling photos of some friends and tweeps morphed into black squares, which is self-explanatory, the color itself connotative of mourning and loss. Others redacted words or phrases from their status updates, citing “RA 10175”.

As the movement gained momentum, other people put up images that symbolize concepts such as dissent, struggle against oppression, and rebellion against totalitarianism.

Among these symbols is the Guy Fawkes mask. The mask is white with red cheeks, a mustache, and slim pointed beard, a mere stripe upon the chin. The mask was used as a plot element by writer Alan Moore in his 1982-85 graphic novel series V for Vendetta, later made into a movie. The film is perceived by some to refer to a society’s oppression by government. The Guy Fawkes mask was used by hacktivist group Anonymous and by activists in the Occupy movement in the United States as a symbol against repression and tyranny.

Another symbol appearing on social media avatars is the red “forbidden” sign (a circle with a slash within), often accompanied by text such as “Cyber Martial Law”; there’s also an image of Rizal with black tape across his mouth.

These and others are used as signs of protest against the loss of freedom of speech that many fear is heralded by the Cybercrime Law.

Says a lawyer whose profile picture is the Guy Fawkes mask: “I don’t like people dictating my personal choices. There are things I can say and express within the bounds of the law, then it is made illegal, which violates Article 3, Section 4 of the Constitution – “No law shall be passed abridging the freedom of speech, of expression, or of the press…” This is contained in our Bill of Rights.”

Says an almost-lawyer, represented on FB by a black square: “As it is, the libel law in the Revised Penal Code is already questionable because it provides jail time for what is basically a civil offense – so you can go to jail for saying someone’s stupid. Libel is between two people, not the state.”

Other signs of outrage erupted online. Hacktivists calling themselves “PrivateX” have entered ten government and private websites so far, posting various messages, one of them beginning, “This domain name associated with gov.ph has been seized pursuant to an order issued by Anonymous Philippines…”

Among the affected websites were those of the Office of the President, Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System, Philippine Anti-Piracy Team, National Telecommunications Commission, Philippine Information Agency, American Chamber of Commerce, and the Food Development Center.

The Philippine National Police said it was victimized by hackers who created a false FB page for it, with status updates such as “Foul words against our police officers can be used as evidence now to file a case against you in a court of law.” The page can no longer be accessed.

This image appeared on FB earlier this week. PNP claims it is a fake page.

Other netizens put up the Philippine Internet Freedom Alliance or pifa.ph almost immediately, a “website blackout protest” with this call: “Respect our right to free speech, privacy, and information. Prevent dictatorship. Protect democracy.”

Screenshot of home page of pifa.ph. 

A celebrity made this clever statement: he posted a picture of himself holding up a sign with his name on it, and below that the words, “Future Cybercriminal? RA 10175.” Other famous people took to Twitter to express their points-of-view, either for the repeal of the bill or its revision.

The Cybercrime Law has been likened to SOPA (Stop the Online Piracy Act) and PIPA (Protect Intellectual Property Act) in the United States, which people protested against by blacking out their websites or entire chunks of text and content.

In July 2010, Senator Francis Escudero filed a bill decriminalizing libel. However, he was among those who signed the Cybercrime Law, and is backpedaling by filing Senate Bill No. 3288 to repeal it, admitting he did not notice the libel provision.

Senator TG Guingona, who opposed the law, filed a petition with the Supreme Court urging that the provisions pertaining to libel in the Cybercrime Law be declared unconstitutional, and warned the public that this law would suppress freedom of speech.

“The state has no right,” he said, “to gag its citizens and convict them for expressing their thoughts… Filipinos should never be left to cower in the sidelines – their thoughts and voices should not be shackled by fear and intimidation. The people should not be afraid of its own government.”

When it is government itself that curtails freedom of speech in any manner; when government itself imposes an atmosphere of fear; when government itself suppresses a fundamental right of humans, then it is acting contrary to the interest of the people and its own survival as an entity.

And when a people feel their rights are curtailed, when they become fearful and angry, when their outrage boils over, then they are moved to action.

And with action follows change.

Here’s a quote from the film “V for Vendetta”: “People should not be afraid of their governments. Governments should be afraid of their people.” *** 

Guy Fawkes mask image here.

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pop goes the world: dressed in mixed messages

POP GOES THE WORLD  By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today,  7 June 2012, Thursday

Dressed in Mixed Messages

An advertising campaign designed to sell clothes backfired when social media users lashed out at the offensive message they said was embodied in the ads.

Fashion retail store Bayo’s “What’s Your Mix?” campaign, launched a few days ago, featured “mixed-race” models. Each image carried taglines purporting to reveal the exact lineage mix of each model – “50 % Filipino, 50% Australian,” “80% Chinese, 20 % Filipino,” and so on. Other nationalities featured, said to be mixed with Filipino, were British, Indian, and African.

A “manifesto”, as the chunk of advertising copy beside Fil-Aussie model Jasmine Curtis-Smith’s photo was called, emphasized the point of the campaign : “This is just all about mixing and matching  – nationalities, moods, personalities, and of course your fashion pieces. Call it biased, but the mixing and matching of different nationalities with Filipino blood is almost a sure formula for someone beautiful and world-class.”

Bayo ad with “manifesto” here.

I don’t get how mixing races equates with mixing a long-sleeved floral blouse with denim cut-offs. It’s doesn’t make any sense at all. An advertising campaign seeks to inform people about a product and persuade them to buy it. Bayo’s confused effort, instead, was a turn-off.

The Internet provides, among other things, something that mass media did not have before – instant feedback. Much of the commentary posted online was negative, citing issues of racism and colonial mentality.

On Twitter, user @radikalchick’s take was that “100% think the Bayo campaign is tanga. It has lost what it had going for it when Lea Salonga was its endorser. #stopbuyingBayo.” Aina Banaag said the campaign was “completely off and racist;” “Joshua”: “The message is…you have to be mixed race Filipino to be beautiful? WTF?”; Grace D. Calara: “To Bayo: I’m 100% Filipino. I am proud of my race and I consider myself beautiful. I don’t need to be of mixed lineage. #bayosucksbigtime.”

Others pointed out that the message was confusing because the text of the “manifesto” was badly-written and difficult to interpret.

Twitter user @butnotquite said, “Had they fine-tuned that copy, this could have actually worked. As it is, it’s just patronizing and divisive.”

@JimLibiran: “It should have been tested in FGDs (focus group discussions). It must have been conceptualized as a Pinoy pride thing targeting the moneyed mixed-race Pinoys.” “Lloyd” said:“…Wonder what message it will send to teenage girls. #worried.” Mark David Dehesa: “Intent vs. execution gap = miscommunication.”

The story was posted yesterday on online tech news portal Mashable. The advice given by international commenters was to steer clear of using race to sell products.

Said Brian Perkins: “That first paragraph is cringe-worthy, though. “We always have a fighting chance of making it in the world arena of almost all aspects.” Except creative writing, apparently. Before that it says you’re pretty much going to be beautiful and world-class if you’re mixed with Filipino. LMAO. You can mix and match all you want, but please don’t mix race with ad campaigns like this – it’s not a good match.”

Bayo ads with other mixed-race models here.

 Another Mashable reader, Michelle West, said: “Don’t use race as an advertising tool. It just comes off as creepy and/or patronizing. These things happen when advertisers make the wrong, or overly sweeping, assumptions about how their target audience sees or wants to see themselves.”

Was it just misinterpretation? People’s reactions show that race, identity, and beauty are still sore issues in the national psyche, and advertising folks seem to be unsure how to handle them.

Writer Yvette Tan tweeted, “Because people seem to be having fun with percentages, I’m 75% Fujianese, 25% Bulakeña, 2.5% Spanish, 2.5% Mongolian, and 100% bagsak sa Math.

“That being said, let’s not be too harsh on Bayo. The campaign failed. It was a stupid move, but one borne out of ignorance, not hate.”

Bayo used to be all about simplicity. The brand name itself is the Visayan word for “dress”. Nothing could be more direct to the point. Their clothes are classy and no-frills. But with intense competition coming not only from fellow Filipino brands but also from trendy foreign ones such as the upscale Zara and Mango and the cut-price and uber-popular Forever 21, it seems Bayo felt the need to stand out with what they thought was an edgy, novel concept – but one that unfortunately had the opposite of the desired effect.

Remember the Bela Padilla-FHM cover flap last February? The fair-skinned Padilla was shot against a background of dark-skinned beauties. It took Internet flak for being racist and the issue with that cover was pulled from newsstand shelves.

It’s a big, sad, and sorry lesson for Bayo.

To advertisers, the message is crystal. Colonial mentality is out. Stop trying to make it trend. Stop using controversy rooted in insensitivity to promote products. Stop indulging “facism,” “ageism”, and the glorification of youth and Western standards of appearance. Be real. Be natural. You’ll be more appreciated. *** 

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pop goes the world: la-la land

POP GOES THE WORLD  By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today,  10 May 2012, Thursday

La-La Land

Los Angeles, California – From the fresh, wide-open spaces of Iowa, it’s a jarring shift to the cacophony and color of LA. It is late spring and the days are warm, the nights chill. Buildings and homes of wood, adobe, and concrete line the roads and blanket the hills. Cars zoom on cracked roads. Garish neon lights spell “open”, “cerveza”, “deli”.

The 134 in Los Angeles. 

It’s a bustling, vibrant city, like Manila but sped up a hundred times faster. Scenes flash by like in a film.

At a ritzy bakery, two well-groomed men complain about the two queues that have formed in front of the pastry cases. “What’s with the lines? Is this a tourist destination now? I’m going to the Glendale branch.” “But it’s way hotter here in Burbank!” “Did you see that woman, she cut the line! Stupid hag.”

Downtown, a Latina crosses the street in front, an iguana slung over a plump shoulder. She smiles to herself.

In a deli in Westwood, a blonde in her sixties argues with a man whose cap is on backwards. “I need financial help!” she says, swigging white wine. It looks like it is not her first glass. He remonstrates with her, sotto voce. She becomes more agitated. “Then sure, let’s stay here! I’m ordering more wine.” He tells her they must leave. Staggering, she gets to her feet. She is wearing a baby-doll nightgown, with a black lace peignoir as a robe, and knee-high boots. She adjusts her scanty clothing by tugging downward on her neckline to expose her sagging, wrinkly breasts.

She tells her story in a deli. 

And so on.

LA is, after all, home to Hollywood and the big-name studios that dominate commercial filmmaking. But in real life there are no actors, and there is no director to yell “Cut!”

There are no retakes. You have only one chance to get it right.

The city is hyper fast, jigging on dope and speed and it’s getting to me. On the way home after a day of sightseeing, there’s heavy traffic on the freeway and cars stutter to a standstill. I suffer a bout of hypertension.

Back where I’m staying, my host says it could instead have been a mild panic attack from the stress of travel and prescribes aromatherapy.

He draws me a hot bath and hands me a precious bottle of vintage Tasmanian lavender oil, instructing me to pour two capfuls of the oil in the water. “Lavender relieves stress and anxiety,” he says. “Immerse yourself.”

A bottle of vintage Tasmanian lavender oil. (Visit naturalextracts.com) 

The scent of the oil, borne on the curling steam, suffuses my senses as I ease into the hot water. I sink into the fragrant pool. I hear my heartbeat, amplified by the water, at first rapid, slowing to a regular thump-THUMP. I am more aware of my body, and myself. I calm down.

Minutes pass. I hear my friends outside the bathroom door. “Do you think she’s alright?” “She’s having fun,” my host says.

When the water is lukewarm I emerge from the bath, relaxed and ready for sleep. More of the oil is rubbed into my spine. A soothing slumber claims me.

When I wake, my host’s longhair cat, Meeps, twines himself around my ankles and leads me to the kitchen screen door. We stare through it at the garden beyond. The trees and foliage are lush, almost tropical in their exuberance. I do not know their names but I enjoy them anyway.

Meeps at the kitchen door. 

Yes, this is also LA – a place where people advocate exotic healing remedies, let plants grow wild and riotous in their gardens, and shelter wanderers in their homes and anoint them with flower oil and bless them with peace.

The jacaranda trees sport majestic purple plumage in the Los Angeles springtime. 

Then one morning I read news of the Andi Eigenmann-Albie Casino bar brawl and the Raymart Santiago-Claudine Barretto-Mon Tulfo airport fight. A video of the latter shows the celebrities and their entourage engaged in a screaming, kicking, and punching melee. They are actors, but this time they’re not acting. In both instances, you can almost smell the testosterone and the rage. LA does not have a monopoly on drama.

My host would have said only one thing. “Throw them all into a lavender bath.” ***

All photos taken with an iPhone 4S in May 2012, without effects or edited with Instagram and/or Snapseed.

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pop goes the world: a little patch of paradise

POP GOES THE WORLD  By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today,  3 May 2012, Thursday

A Little Patch of Paradise

Waukee, Iowa – It’s a town of less than 14,000 people, about twenty minutes from Des Moines on the freeway, and is as close to Heaven as a bit of earth can be.

It’s my first time to visit the Midwest. I am here to spend a few days with physician Amerlon Enriquez, his wife Eva, and their two children. Amer occasionally contributes to MST’s Diaspora column, and has been based in the US for nearly twenty years. He and his family have been Iowa residents for almost ten.

It is springtime, and God has laid wall-to-wall carpet in emerald green. Grass and trees growing in endless profusion, rolling from hill to hill. Lilacs fill the air with a heady scent. Fresh-mown grass is another common fragrance. Soon, Eva tells me, roses and hydrangeas will poke their colorful heads above the ground.

An Iowa landscape.

Iowa has a large farming community, and is one of the country’s top producers of corn and pork. Stuffed toys shaped like pigs and corn ears fill souvenir shops, along with John Deere tractor merchandise, homemade fudge and jam, and other tokens of an agricultural nature.

Massive silos reach into the sky, giant steel fingers filled with corn to be turned into food products, animal feeds and biofuel. The prosperity of the state shows in the miles and miles of perfectly paved roads, clean streets and sidewalks, and well-maintained public buildings.

Silos dot the Iowa landscape.

These infrastructural achievements are even more impressive when you learn that the entire state, which has an area of 145,743 square kilometers, almost as large as the combined area of Luzon and Visayas at 165,765, is maintained by and for only a little over three million people.

In contrast, Metro Manila is crammed with over eleven million people in an area less than 639 square kilometers.

Iowa has one of the country’s lowest unemployment rates; while a few companies are laying-off people, others are constructing new office buildings (such as hospitals and insurance firms).

People are friendly. You pass them on the street, they make eye contact, smile, and say hello. When Amer and his family first moved into their house, the next-door neighbor came over with pie.

Iowans take pride in their surroundings, keeping their homes and gardens immaculate. Paint is never peeling, lawns are always mowed, windows do not remain broken.

The front porch of a well-tended Iowa home.

They care for their environment – great expanses of woods are preserved so that deer can come up to Eva’s yard and nibble at her plants and raccoons can run across her lawn, and long stretches of freeway and roads are kept unilluminated to reduce light pollution. At night, you can go out on Amer and Eva’s deck, look up, and see stars sprinkled across an expanse of velvet black.

I have not seen stars in the Manila night sky in over a decade.

The people are so trusting, none of the stores have armed security guards out front like ours do. A store will be manned by only one to two people. Sometimes the storekeeper will go out back to fetch something, leaving you unattended for minutes. Come the corn harvest, farmers leave their sweet and crunchy produce out beside the road, with a sign setting out prices and an open cash box for payment – all also unwatched, unguarded. It could be cords of firewood or baskets of fruit, same thing.

They have a rich sense of history. Grand Avenue in Des Moines is lined with houses dating back a century or more. They are not torn down but sold to people who will preserve them. Old buildings are re-purposed; a Masonic temple lavishly decorated with marble, wood panels, and decorative tile was converted into a performing arts center. Other buildings from the 1800s are now offices. Also from that period are the red-painted covered wooden bridges featured in the film “Bridges of Madison County”, all lovingly maintained. Where now our own architectural gems, such as the Art Deco-style Jai Alai building?

Dr Enriquez on Roseman Bridge.

What is it about their culture that has resulted in their creating such a pleasant community? Honor, honesty, and hard work are among the significant values that guide them, as well as discipline, thrift, and respect for nature. Perhaps the state’s small population also makes it easier for their people to conform to the societal norms that continue to serve them well.

The Capitol building, Des Moines, Iowa. (Edited with Instagram) 

Living close to nature, espousing traditional values, defending the environment and preserving history – this is a good way to live.

Amer and Eva have asked me to come back soon for a longer visit. I will try my best to do so, because I have left a wee bit of my heart here in Iowa, in their little patch of paradise. ***

All photos taken May 2012 with an iPhone 4S.

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pop goes the world: leaving on a jet plane

POP GOES THE WORLD  By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today,  26 April 2012, Thursday

Leaving on a Jet Plane

San Francisco, California – It was the old woman’s first time on a big plane, she said.

It was a Boeing 747-400 with an upper deck where business class passengers could lie down to sleep, unlike us cattle in economy, herded three in a row where in business class they sat two. Before taking this Manila to San Francisco flight, she’d only flown to Davao and back.

On board a Philippine Airlines flight from Manila to San Francisco.

Over the twelve-hour flight, the old woman told me her life story. She was migrating to join her daughter in Sacramento. She had five other children; all of them were college graduates, two were in South Africa, one in the USA, the other worked on a cruise ship, two were in the Philippines taking care of her husband, who had had a mild stroke.

“He had a mistress,” she said darkly, as if that were explanation enough for his illness.

She told me about their properties, two lots in Valenzuela that she bought “back when land was a lot cheaper than it is now,” and several more in Nueva Ecija. One of her sons had their old home torn down and a new one built at a cost of seven million pesos.

Perhaps she was nervous and wanted to allay her anxiety by chatting. Certainly she was an extrovert; it never occurred to her that I wanted to be left alone with my book. I listened to her, making noncommittal noises at the appropriate moments.

When the flight attendants went around with the debarkation and customs forms, she turned to me and said, “You told me you’re a writer. Please help me with the forms. My daughter said the chances are my seatmate would be Filipino, and to ask them to help me if I needed anything.”

As she shrugged her heavy black knit coat on, and adjusted her gray knit cap on her hair, I filled out the blanks on the forms for her, referring to her passport for some of the information. She was born in 1938, and her given name was “Maria”, simply that.

“Sign here,” I said.

“Thank you, anak,” she replied. “How lucky I was to be sitting next to a writer when I needed one.”

“You’re welcome, Nanay,” I said.

The plane taxied to a stop. I bade her good luck and farewell, and sped to the door. It wasn’t open yet. People were milling around, waiting. I crept too close to the door and the flight attendant, who was on the in-plane phone, gently nudged me back under the telephone cord.

From the deck above, other passengers were descending and joining the crowd around the door; their arrival caused waves to ripple and eddy within the mass. A strident voice cut through our anticipation. “Would you let us through, please?” It was a middle-aged blonde. She sounded annoyed. We Filipinos stared at her. There was no need to say anything; all one had to do was push one’s way through the milling group. The waves of people parted as she passed, then closed again upon itself.

Filipino culture stays the same no matter where the Filipinos are. We assume that young people will defer to their elders, and that in an unfamiliar situation, a Filipino will help a kababayan.

Our concept of personal space is carried within us, so that we don’t mind if we are gently jostled as part of a crowd, unlike Westerners who require about a couple of feet of personal space around them (refer to cultural anthropologist Edward T. Hall’s studies on proxemics).

We think of ourselves as family, so that we can share stories about our personal lives and not feel it an intrusion upon our privacy, and address each other – even perfect strangers – by kinship terms – “mother” and “child”.

When you are Filipino you are part of something bigger than yourself, wherever in the world you may be.   ***

Photo taken 20 April 2012 with an iPhone 4S, edited with Instagram effects.

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pop goes the world: holey week

POP GOES THE WORLD  By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, 12 April 2012, Thursday

Holey Week

Last Good Friday, two photos spread all over Facebook and other Internet sites. Both elicited comments of outrage. Only one made it to the traditional news.

One photo was taken by Karlos Manlupig, who uploaded it to Facebook and tagged it “Public”. Inside a church, a uniformed security guard points a rattan baton at a shirtless man whose back is to the camera, his profile blurred to preserve his identity.

(see photo in my previous blog post here)

Here’s the caption Manlupig posted: “FILTHY HYPOCRITES. As I was shooting in Davao City’s San Pedro Cathedral during the observance of Good Friday, I noticed a Tagalog-speaking man instructing this security guard to throw out a half-naked man who is (sic) silently kneeling and praying inside the church, saying that the churches in Manila prohibit persons with mental disabilities and vagrants to enter its premises.

“The security guard then assaulted the poor man without any warning, poking him in the ribs several times using a ‘ratan’ truncheon…I immediately took several burst shots of the detestable incident.

“Suddenly, an old man with a Bible in his hand tapped me on my shoulder and told me that it is improper to take photos of the incident and that it is also improper to take photos inside their heavenly church.”

“What the hell is wrong with you people?” the aghast photographer asked.

In less than three hours of the upload, the image had been shared on Facebook 1,967 times.

The second photo shows a pretty young girl in sexy shorts and sleeveless floral top, her eyes covered with sunglasses, clinging to a cross, in a manner and position construed by viewers as “sexy.”

It was taken in Barangay Lourdes Northwest, Angeles City, where a traditional senakulo was held. The young girl wasn’t the only one who posed that way that day; two other images on the Internet are of a woman in a body-hugging black maxi dress, pink shawl, and sunglasses, and of a young man in a blue shirt and khaki shorts.

Another photo taken there shows two women in a “jump shot.”

Image here.

The majority of the comments on the photos scored the security guard for being cruel and unkind, and the cross-posers and jumpers for behaving inappropriately, showing “disrespect and impropriety.”

Only the incident of the girl on the cross was picked up by traditional media. That of the security guard in Davao was not.

This question, accompanied by the photos, made the rounds on Facebook: “Which of the two was worse?”

A Mindoro-based physician answered, “Both are disgusting! Both are a mockery!”

These two incidents reinforce the perception of our society as a “hypocriciety”, as I wrote about in an earlier column. Religion in this country has been trivialized. Churches and other places of worship are treated as tourist destinations, in the sense that people who visit there behave as tourists would in secular places such as museums or parks.

Worse, the incident of the security guard and the shirtless man shows that poverty and mental illness are stigmas that negatively influence a person’s standing in society; that our culture allows the marginalized to be treated without compassion and respect.

And for this incident to happen inside a cathedral on a Good Friday underscores the idea that Christianity is only lip service to a great many believers.

Poor shirtless man, scorned and repulsed by those who should have helped him. Jesus Christ himself said, “And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”

“Blessed are the poor,” Jesus also said, “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” It’s too bad that they can’t get a decent break here on earth.

Believing is not doing. There are gaps in our sensibilities, great big holes through which common sense has evaporated, leaving a mindset which sees nothing wrong with this sort of behavior.

Can our society change for the better? Or is this decline into desensitization an overwhelming, unstoppable juggernaut? Is there a force strong enough to turn the tide?

Public opinion might do it. Reality, after all, is socially constructed, created by people. If enough people want to bring about change, with awareness and determination they can.

I hope so. Otherwise, we’ll be seeing more images like this next year, if not worse. ***

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pop goes the world: color me color-blind

POP GOES THE WORLD  By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today,  1 March 2012, Thursday

Color Me Color-Blind

Men’s magazine FHM-Philippines buckled under a barrage of negative feedback after it posted a photo of its proposed March cover on its Facebook Page that aroused the ire of Netizens.

“Racist!” said one commenter. “Shame on FHM Philippines!” said another.

The controversial image showed light-skinned soap actress and model Bela Padilla, wearing a strappy hot pink bikini, surrounded by three dark-skinned models, and headlined “Bela Padilla: Emerging from the Shadows”.

Image here.

Over three hundred people signed a petition on change.org asking FHM to apologize and yank the cover.

FHM-Philippines’ publisher Summit Media responded by cancelling the cover, promising to have a different one upon release, and issuing this statement: “We apologize and thank those who have raised their points. We apologize to Bela Padilla for any distress this may have caused her.”

Their full statement is posted on the FHM-Philippines website. Nowhere in it is there an apology to the backup models.

Bela took the flak in stride. Much was made of her video and Twitter apology. In the latter she said, “I’m so sorry to everyone who got offended. I hope all of you see the beauty of the cover and appreciate it,” and, “My cover is supposed to be about stepping out of my shadows, inhibitions, fears, etc. And has nothing to do with race.”

She herself is of mixed race, having a Filipina mother and a British father.

In the first place, didn’t she know better to participate in such a shoot in the first place? Did she not even make a comment during the shoot? Ask the pictorial director why this particular concept was employed? Was she even aware of the racism inherent in the concept? Has she gone on record as having made objections before all this?

It seems not. One might chalk that up to her youth – she’s 20 – or her ignorance. Or perhaps for her it was just a job, and who cares about the image concept and any other deeper meanings that may lie behind it.

The chocolate beauties were treated as background, as mere props to the star, like furniture or a backdrop. They are still unnamed in the media. They are the subject now of global attention, yet they remain anonymous, because props do not have names.

It is they who deserve an apology from FHM, not Bela.

Racism exists as a cultural norm in many countries. Certainly prejudice is universal. I don’t think there is any country that does not have any biases based on skin color, ethnicity, religion, or other factor that would set one group apart from another. The collective, the majority, is always afraid of what is different, as it seeks to maintain its dominance through cultural hegemony.

We are guided by a mindset stillborn from 400 years of Spanish rule and 40 years of American occupation. Despite the advances in technology and scholarship since then, we have not been able to shake of the heavy burden of nearly half a millennium of colonial mentality.

In our culture, light-complexioned girls with Caucasian features are extolled as being more beautiful than their warmer-skinned, ethnic-looking counterparts. This notion is heavily reinforced in the media, which has led to the phenomenon of whitening through chemical means, from soap to injectable glutathione.

With migration to other countries, people crossing national borders to live and work, and intermarriage, we thought the world would become a melting-pot, with all the cultures blending together to create a happy coffee-skinned world population.

Instead, as scholars have noted, countries with high multi-cultural populations have become salad bowls – where different cultures mix yet remain distinct, “maintaining their own practices and institutions” (Laura Laubeova). One example of such a country is the United States.

Unlike the US, the Philippines has not been a focal point for mass migration. The majority of its residents are of Malay extraction – one race. So racism is not the entire issue.

Rather, it is also an issue of class, with the dominant, foreign-descended upper class deemed as the ideal and copied slavishly by the masses as an extension of the colonial influence and the bourgeois status quo.

The good thing about this entire FHM-Bela Padilla issue is the discourse that resulted from it and the immediate feedback. It is also heartening to note FHM’s immediate response and their pull-out of their distasteful cover.

With vigilance and continued action we can bring about a cultural revolution in the Philippines, and lay the foundation for a society that is color-blind, tolerant, and inclusive.

We can change this country for the better.   *** 

UPDATE: 10 March 2012, Saturday – I saw this at a gas station convenience store – FHM’s March issue with the revised cover.

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