Saturday, January 22, 2011

Born in the USA

Those of you who've been here before know that home is an abstraction for me. With my heart in many parts and places, the notion of home has become less and less about place, more and more about the vibe. That I happen to have a duly documented birth in America is not anything I should get any credit for, and yet for many conservative people in this immigrant nation it legitimizes my being here. As far as they are concerned, this land is as much my homeland as it is theirs. As far as they are concerned, my claim to this homeland we share is as welcome as theirs. What they don't understand is this: I did not claim America, America claimed me.

Made in the Philippines, born in the States and claimed by the US of A.

When my birth in upstate New York forty years ago was recognized by the due process of American documentation, America decided that I belonged to her. She claimed me, regardless of where my roots were. She anointed me daughter, chosen one, lucky child. As far as America was concerned, I had won the INS lottery. And in many ways she was right. But what is sorely missed in this telling is that I am as much an American as anyone else born here no matter what their circumstance.

America is an immigrant nation, always was and always will be. What keeps the heart of America vital and compelling is her ability to grow and evolve culturally and philosophically. It is for this reason that my being born in the USA is something I have come to treasure deeply. By her nature of being an immigrant nation, America is also inherently a compassionate nation. Historically, she has provided a safe haven for those whose home of origin puts them at risk. It pains me deeply that Americans of immigrant lineage themselves so easily forget the way America so openly welcomed their families. Like many immigrants today, their forefathers desperately needed solace and possibility. What is it about thes so-called Americans that compels them to deny others of similar stories but differing culture the same compassion they so generously received?

Where I am from we have a saying: He who cannot honor where he has come from will never get to where he is going. America can learn from this. We need to, it is the only way we will cross the threshold and fulfill this immigrant nation's destiny. Born in the USA is less about geography and more about the audacity to say: One nation under God, indivisible. With liberty and justice for all.

Surely, this includes all color, race and origin. Otherwise, it wouldn't be America. It simply couldn't be.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Popping My Waffle House Cherry

Somewhere between Manila time and Eastern time, I found myself wide awake at midnight. Jet lagged and ravenous, the slick pitch to the LEAF Slam Master et voila. We are off to have breakfast at midnight.  I have lived in America for four years now and I have a confession to make. Until three hours ago, I was a virgin. A Waffle House virgin, that is.

The Waffle House on Tunnel Road almost unchanged in 56 years
Not anymore! What a treat, not only do I get bacon and breakfast at midnight (while stone cold sober, at that!), I also get to experience an American icon for the first time. This simple, profound experience unfolds before me and I am tickled as I immerse myself in Americana's soft edges.

I meet Roxie, the server who tells us she loves her job. She tells us with pride how the Waffle House never closes, despite bad weather and how during hurricane Katrina they served as a quasi basecamp from where relief workers mobilized aid. She shows us the pins and badges adorning her cap and apron to mark her accomplishments, her military stripes worn with pride.

A glassy eyed man  comes in with a familiar 3am appetite that can only mean the munchies. He knows what he wants, cleans up his plate and quietly leaves, satisfied.. There is the graceful elderly man, originally from Greece now with a Southern drawl checking to see if we are alright as he offers us more coffee. He moved here with his family as a boy and now calls it home.

This the only America I want to belong to. Buzzing, comfortable and welcoming. Culturally peppered with accent, drawl and story. Rooted in a sense of pride that is not boastful. Fully occupying its own space with authority, yet not overbearing. It is a foggy winter's dawn outside, but in here it is warm and easy. I am told that this 56 year-old structure remains mostly unchanged.

As I sit here and watch Americana buzzing into the wee hours of the morning, my jet lag is replaced by a comfortable warmth deep within. That's when I know, a cherry's been popped. And I like it. And I know I'll be back. For more.

Friday, January 14, 2011

To Be or Not to Be (aka Should I Stay or Should I Go?)

If you're like me, you find people and places have taken pieces of your heart. Or more accurately, you leave pieces of your heart with people and places. This is how the heart makes room, stays connected, expands.

As I come to close a long stay in the home of my heart (one of the homes, the one with the deepest roots) I find myself in that familiar dilemma. Torn between two lovers of rootedness and wanderlust I ask the age old question in the rock & roll question in the style of The Clash: should I stay or should I go?

Perhaps this is not the question to ask. Perhaps it isn't a geographical question but an existentialist one: To be or Not to Be. In America, this poses mutually exclusive options. One must pick a side. But where I am from, both options can be true simultaneously. Both possibilities can be had in one go. To be is not to be, and the question is the answer,

And so I sit, just having spent my sister's 30somethingth birthday with her for the first time in over a decade and beginning to pack for my trip back to the States. Not staying, not going. Just being. And living. And not being gloomy. And being happy. And being grateful. And looking forward. And looking back with a happy, growing heart.

Monday, January 10, 2011

An Ultimate Breach of Social Contract

Just the other day over coffee, I was having a heated conversation with my mother and my beau about accountability.  We were having a conversation about freedom of speech, and the accountability it comes with. You see, when you find yourself in a position, with platform and a following whose thoughts and behaviors you can influence you have a responsibility for the things you say and do.  When people give you their trust, when they believe you because of your position or  power, there is a social contract made. There is an agreement of mutual respect. There is an expectation of ethics, of a measure of civility.

I may never understand how people in America can call themselves journalists, public servants then turn right around with untruths, and blatant misrepresentations of facts and events—and get away with it! What an ultimate deception, what an incredible lie. To preach that you care about your country and the welfare of its downtrodden, when in truth the master you serve is your own best interest and the posse of big business patrons that fund your work and your cushy life.

What else would explain the fervor with with they convince their devoted following to behave in ways that favor the best interests but to those of big business, big pharma and big insurance companies over their own.  What else can explain the slow but sure build up towards fascism (all in the guise of preserving democracy, of course) through language like bullseye, eliminate, enemy, don't retreat instead reload. What an brilliant manipulation, to wind people up so they do all the dirty work for you of mounting protest and voting this way or that —and you are off the hook. What an incredible slight of hand, to do such disservice and get away with it. How did Americans allow this? How was it possible that this new form of quasi organized crime had gone unnoticed?

Eerily the next day,  it seemed to have all gone to head. With hitman and target in the plain light of day. Vitriolic rhetoric, enraged extremist, singled out public servant et voila - a horrific act of terrorism. Costing the lives of innocent and a nation's sense of safety. In cases like this it is never a simple story. There may have been one hit man and one accomplice in this tragedy, but it cannot be denied that the conspirators are many. And no, I am not referring to any particular political leaning. I am referring to all of us who have in some shape or form have encouraged violence and division. I am referring to all of us who have not made room for a different point of view.

It starts very early, the mean girls in high school. The jocks picking on the dorks. The punitive boss mistreating his employees. The man beating up his wife. The mother bearing disdain for her child. One race calling another this or that, one person out casting another for whom he loves. One religion vilifying another. We have all been someone's target. We have all had crosshairs on our forehead.

On this very sad week in a troubled country that is ever changing, it is important that we remember the social contract we all make us Americans who belong to this immigrant nation. It is important to remember the power of the words we speak. It is important to be accountable for the things we say and do. So today, America, I say thank you for making room for me my thoughts and my spirit. And while I do not apologize for being hard on you, for questioning your essence and exploring your heart,  I do apologize for the times I have been intolerant of some belief systems I disagree with. I do apologize for being critical, at and yes I apologize for the times that I have been vocally and unequivocally critical. And I apologize for succumbing to the name calling and divisive labels.

And to you, who have power and influence - I am looking at you with generations of expectation. Remember the social contract you have made with me and all Americans. We are watching you, and we will no longer let you get away with breaching our contract. Not anymore.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

The End of the Innocence

Then and now, what is lost and what is gained...?
 Do you recall that exact moment in your story that your innocence ended? Or if it ever ended at all? Or perhaps you wonder whether you ever had it at all, the innocence?

Where I come from, there is still an innocence and child-like way about people. It's a gritty, rough and corrupted a place for sure, but something about the way people are remains innocent and trusting. A lot has to do with the oppression of  Catholic conquistadores, for sure.  Somehow in their teaching about faith and the promise of heaven they managed to instill a deep sense of hope that has allowed generations to smile through adversity with a genuine levity no matter how dire their situation.

I have often wondered, is this innocence or the proverbial state of blissful ignorance. But what is blissful in knowing the hunger of three days without, paying taxes to a government that is stealing from you, or having to tell your son he can no longer continue the third grade? I do not see this innocence in America. Instead, I see eyes with lights dimmed through the years. It is beyond being jaded, this unfamiliar weariness. Perhaps it is a sense of defeat; the house always wins, even in their gamble for the American dream.

This is still an oddity to me after all these years. This 'casino' approach to life's dreams. The one that involves maxxing out credit cards and subprime mortgages. Just thinking about it makes my stomach flutter. Is this the innocence, the child-like quality warning me, keeping me from harm's way? Perhaps I still do have some of my innocence intact.

Maybe one of these days you'll see me making my way through America wearing my immigrant smile and Unamerican happy-strut. And maybe it will be a particularly bad day at the American dream slots. Come by and say hi, maybe some of my levity will rub off on you. Because you know what, I have a feeling you still have some innocence and child-like hopefulness simmering in your insides. And maybe, just maybe when this glint in my eye will turn your lights back on. When that day comes, the house will stop winning. Because you know what, you'll stop gambling on a dream and really start having fun again.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Do Not Be Still My Excitable Unamerican Heart

Did I tell you I have a high heart rate? It isn't high blood pressure, my baseline is just a high heart rate. It figures that a half Spanish, half Filipino heart would be excitable doesn't it? This quality is both  asset and liability. On the treadmill, it is a bit of a liability. Especially when doing speed intervals which alternate between intense  speeds that get your heart up to 85% of your maximum heart rate to slower more even keeled paces that burn fat at 15% of your maximum heart rate. The treadmill is constantly scolding me, telling me to lower my speed to lower my heart rate. It can also be seen as a liability in heated discussions, when am on fire - arms kinetic in gesture, inflections on overdrive I am often reminded to calm down.

It seems my tendencies to get excited, emphatic and fired up make people and athletic equipment uncomfortable. So much that they need to remind me to keep in check. As I think about this further, I realize it isn't the speed and shape of my heart that are really in question here but the standards if measures used to determine what is too much or just right. What is the measure of the heart, anyway? How can you weigh the appropriateness of one's fire? To try would be no different than counting Mozart's notes and categorically saying his music had too many.

Here's the thing. I like the pace of my heart just the way it runs. I get deep satisfaction as the cadence heightens in my chest, I know I am on to something good. So to my fast beating heart I say do not be still, do not. Rage, or not - it is up to you. Feel it all as much or as little. Electrify my entire being with your rhythm and keep me turned on with your pulsating. By our fire we will teach the feeble of heart that it is okay to feel things strongly, to race with emotion, to pulsate with inspiration. And to those who don't get me and my rapid heart I say take a chance, get fired up, reverberate. It has made me stronger, not killed me. Take it from me and Nietzsche, it will make you stronger.