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The A/P/A FEMINIST LEGACY

[Full Text of Presentation at the "Sisters In Solidarity" hosted by the NYU Asian Pacific American Coalition at the Asian/Pacific/America Institute of New York University, “Sisters In Solidarity”, March 28, 2017]

This is a difficult topic, Asia being huge and very varied;  Pacific being equally huge and varied;  and the Americas just as huge and varied.  So I will lay down some generalizations, about our legacy on this continent and, if there’s time, proceed to laying down some specificities.

We speak of this legacy as hyphenated or with slash lines – demarcating the dialectics of the evolution of our feminism, the unity and struggle of its diverse parts and the contradictions it contains.  Our feminism birthed itself not only from our current social and material existence but also within the social and subjective existence of the cultures of our ancestors – which are markedly different from  European culture.

This is one of the reasons why we in AF3IRM NYC speak of a Five Continents Feminism or a Five Culture Feminism.  We understand that we have more than one history and more than veltanschauung, as we interact, confront and deal with existence in this place called the United States so replete with divisions.

It is this which renders distinct the A/P/A legacy:  that it draws and integrates, combat and affirms aspects of thousand-year civilizations, as opposed to the history of Caucasians which broke the model of European feudal tradition in a matter of a couple of hundred years.  We deal with the legacy of millennia-old civilizations.  It is also what makes pushing forward our feminism slightly more difficult – because embedded in that evolution is the question of determining what in our inherited traditions give us strength and what become weaknesses in the contemporary context.

One issue which bedevils our activism is that of leadership.  We are aware of the many historical events in which women wielded decisive leadership – politically, economically, organizationally – and we have been placed in a situation where female leadership is deemed problematic, as the last elections showed.  For quite a long time, the women’s struggle for liberation was subsumed within the general struggle of our communities for dignity, respect and equal treatment, and for a long time, our sisters suffered in silence gender inequality within our own neighborhoods, and allowed the leadership of our social justice movements to be male-dominated.

In the specific instance of the culture I was heir to – a multi-layered, non-syncretized combination of the indigenous and the colonial – leadership was and remains a complicated issue.  On the one hand, historically females were entitled to hold any power they were capable of wielding:  political, economic, social, even military.  Spirituality was almost the exclusive preserve of females and if a male had a spiritual calling, he/she was required to wear women’s clothing.  On the other hand, Spanish colonialism brought in a heavy-handed macho tradition that stripped women of the archipelago of power, rights and social entitlements – not surprising since a number of the continuing resistance to Spanish power was led by the babaylan (priestess), who likely foresaw the long-term disaster that new gender relations would bring.  On top of that layer is the American influence, which admitted to certain women’s rights – but only if they struggled for them.  In other words, only one of these cultural layers, the bedrock culture, accepted as normal gender equality, even as it accepted the existence of five genders.

The first Filipina to migrate to the US came as a war bride --  and that set the tone for the social perception of women of the Philippines:  family, relationship, service to preserve the continuity of US society.  This was far from the rebel start of the Manila men in Louisiana who jumped ship off a Spanish galleon and established a village by intermarrying with the local women of color.  For the women, immigration was not an act of rebellion nor an act of self-fulfillment but was framed within the family paradigm.  By the 1970s, nurses started to enter the US on temporary work visas;  by the 1980s, the mail order bride system came into full bloom, their catalogs of available women being roughly 70% Filipinas.  “The best wives” became a label for the women of the Philippines.  It wasn’t until the late 1980s that we began the long road to women’s emancipation in our communities.

Partly because of the extreme pressure brought by racism to our communities, many of our activists felt duty-bound to support and protect our male leadership without question.  I remember being in a round table discussion with female Asian American activists and hearing, “we have to support our brothers no matter what…”  It took us several years to formulate a response to that one, “we are sisters to him who is a brother to us;  sisters to her who is a sister to us” – thus demarcating the difference between those who would exploit our womanhood and those who would be our allies in our aipac2 aipac5fight for our emancipation.

The second particular aspect of A/P/A legacy in the feminist movement is simply its continuing solidarity with the ancestral land, many of which were being ravaged by imperialism – US, British, French, Dutch, etc.  This had its benefits and its liabilities, since the continued onslaught by imperialism on the homeland was often partly justified by alleged “barbaric” treatment of women and girls.  We saw this in the Afghanistan invasion.  This call to the defense of the homeland against the death and destruction, as well as pillage, from the imperialist war machine served as a locus of organizing for many A/P/A sisters, even as it precluded critique of the many practices which we are now duty bound to address:  the caste system, the prostitution of poor women, arranged marriages, honor killings, deprivation of education for women, girl brides and so on.

There are these two remarkable things of the A/P/A feminist legacy:  it was intersectional and transnational, from the get up and go.  Our legacy may be diverse, multi-layered, trans-ethnic – but we do know from our history that these two qualities have been with us from the beginning of our gaze upon the landscape of the A/P/A womankind.

Thank you and I hope this presentation contributes to our continuing discourse of what the women’s liberation movement is, should be and will be.  -- #

MY DEAR YOUNG LADY

1

Please do not

  disturb

My dear young lady

who

Walks the streets

Holding up

A sunflower

of a placard

She does not sell

Herself

But is sold

By political pimps

Nevertheless.

2

Please

Do not disturb

My dear young lady

Who tells/told

Her own story

Defiant

As Sita

Tiring

Of tiresome

Political pimps

Demands

That Earth swallow her

In revolt.

3

Please do not disturb

My dear young lady

Who

Greets the surreptitious

swelling

Sea

With a crown of badjao boats

Keen as grass blades

Spearing the light

Braiding the waves.

4

Please do not disturb

My dear young lady

She weaves of reeds

-- blue, yellow and purple –

A mat of magic words

To sail to the nursery of stars

The birthing place of worlds

 

Her ovaries teem with life

Indestructible

Impervious to

Dictators

Demagogues

False prophets of gods (and politics)

Who themselves suck

Strength

Power

Vindication

From vast-vulva-bearing trolls

Hashtag:  Irony

5

Please do not disturb

My dear young lady

She brews a dirge

For the forgotten

But not gone

See how in the marketplace

They still sell Causes

Sparkly causes

Fluid tactic causes

Faux indigene causes

Pussies of causes

The last, decapitated, writhes

On stage vying to be

The Most Beautiful

The Most Significant

Flirty

With Death

Balancing a cup of hemlock

While on a motorcycle.

6

Please do not

Disturb

My dear young lady

Lost in the colors of a

Fire

In a fireplace

In the space between

Snowflakes

Of an Antarctic storm

 

The feline Mayakovsky

Stretches

Mother-of-pearl talons

Still handsome

Though 33 years old

 

They mew, spinning through

A remembrance

Of how he believed

And how belief metamorphosed

Into

A bullet

In his brain

 

Because poetry challenged

By the rude

Of politics n

By the politics

Of the rude

Can only respond with

Silence.

7

Please Do Not Disturb

This once young lady

Who has peered into the abyss

of Dialectics

To meet the back gaze

of the Black Nothingness

Reining

  • Stars
  • Planets
  • Comets
  • Constellations n
  • Galaxies

In the skeins of its subtle Oneness

Twirling in a Shiva dance.

 

This once young lady is not

Disturbed

In knowing

Sartre was wrong

To be sans meaning is still

To be

With impact

Nevertheless

It is what

  • Kings and dictators
  • Philosophers and politicians
  • Demagogues and generals
  • Popes and pastors

All who prod and poke --

Threaten to abolish

In their desire to be

Forever.

 

Not to disturb, por favor

This once young lady

As she walks on petal feet

The mountain’s razor edge

To be (in) Makiling, patient and mute,

Forbearing as crocodiles

On the riverbank

Waiting for autocrats to flare

In the heart

Of their nuclear fire.

 

Isis breathes into the nautilus horn

The soundless music of her summons

She gathers her sister souls to ride

Filaments

of the life force

frangible

Albeit cast by the density,

compactness, weight

Of the lightless

Nothing

Core of a Milky Way of glitter -

Makiling on her way to reincarnation

To be, will be and an Eternal Be.  -- #

[Copyright 2017]  Written in anger over the banning by Facebook for 30 days of Miyako Izabel based on the troll complaints

Afternoon Talk at the Kamuning Bakery

The full text of the talk from which this segment was taken will be available via the premium pages of this website, under the title "Saudade/Sehnsucht:  The Arrow of Time, Self-Imagery and the Faraway"

 


 

Kamuning Bakery 1

Packed house at an Afternoon Delight: Ninotchka sits with owner Wilson Lee Flores. To her left is Gwenn Galvez of Anvil Publishing House. (Photo by Marknilo #09261287872)

Thank you for coming and giving me the honor of your company.  It is certainly a Sunday afternoon delight to see familiar faces and new faces and faces with a history I share—all of us joined in a contemplation of literature and pan de sal.
I must confess I was thoroughly entranced when Wilson—may I be on first name basis with you, Mr. Flores?—when he proposed that I speak here, amidst the bread and the cakes and our historic delectation, the pan de sal.

• • •

WHAT MEMORIES ARE LINKED to this amazing and yet simple bread of salt: early mornings and cockcrows and the wind whistling through mango leaves.  We do have pan de sal in New York City—but it is not the same.  What we transpose to other lands and other climes are never the same, no?  We still hanker for the original, that pale brown, moist and little mound of life-sustaining cultural artifact, incomparable as a mother’s breast whose milk brings the very flavor of the sun to one’s tongue.

But this is how it should be—talking literature, talking story, weaving narratives alongside pan de sal, our eternal symbol of re-assurance that the sun has risen once again and at least, for this morning, we will live—because the bread of salt welcomes the start of the hours of the day.  Its time is that time Rosa Luxemburg called “the loveliest moment, before the dreary, noisy, pounding and hammering life… woke up.”  No matter where fate may take us, in whatever part of the globe, pan de sal is our assurance that the country continues, the people survive, even if barely, the islands still float on the vast ocean of the unknown, the same that drew Ferdinand Magellan and seduced him into accidentally setting the direction for the arrow of time for this archipelago of 7.100 islands.  Uh-oh, plus 400 more.

Our literary traditions saw the various genres of writing as inextricably linked with our daily lives—from the poetic pronouncements of our babaylan to the stories by twilight of our narrative weavers, to the three-day poetic jousts that accompanied the funeral of a chieftain.  We sang, we danced, we declared, we chanted, we sculpted, the themes of our lives—or we used to, before the compartmentalization and division of aspects of knowledge into disciplines and moved the creativity of our souls into the academe, museums, library…  Perhaps we need to return the expression and conscience of our race, to paraphrase Joyce, back to where they properly belong and thus end the dominance of the banal in our national narrative—to turn our art and literature to something as vital and sustaining as pan de sal.


"Perhaps we need to return the expression
and conscience of our race, to paraphrase Joyce,
back to where they properly belong and thus
end the dominance of the banal in our national
narrative—to turn our art and literature
to something as vital and sustaining
as pan de sal."

 


 

Our literature runs on the concept of what the Portuguese call saudade—a Galician word meaning a nostalgia for a past that never was.  This is matched by the German word sehnsucht—a nostalgia for a future that will never be.  Time, as you can see, is a major pre-occupation for me as a writer—the many timelines, fractured and truncated, unfulfilled and unrealized—tendrils of time unraveled from the main trunk, shivering in the wind, leading nowhere.  Time, I have always said, is the only character of my novels.  Our national narrative is like a disheveled piece of abaca rope, bristling with broken strands.  I have considered it my obligation as a writer, from the very first story I’d written, to attempt its repair, to find the links to re-attach the broken time strands, to render whole once more our dismantled narrative.

I can say honestly that when I touch down at the Manila airport, I find ranged outside, almost instantly, the elementals of our collective unconscious, both the good and the bad, all saying, “there you are.”  Forthwith, they resume the epic tale of our struggle against the Other—which is also a struggle to be ourselves, as we were meant to be, had another timeline come into fruition.


"Our national narrative is like a disheveled
piece of abaca rope, bristling with broken strands.
I have considered it my obligation as a writer,
from the very first story I’d written, to attempt
its repair, to find the links to re-attach the broken
time strands, to render whole once more our
dismantled narrative."

 


 

I am aware that it is a kind of irony—for me to choose or be chosen for this task.  Perhaps because the task needs a vision and an understanding of what we are, could be, in all the waves of probability; an awareness that comes from looking at the archipelago from the vantage of many other cultures and thus gain an awareness of what we should be, despite the crushing pressures brought upon us.  This task is more urgent now, with the seas around the archipelago rising at ten times the rate of waters in other parts of the globe and the stage of our existence as a people in danger of becoming pais desaparecido.

I will leave you with a little summary of a story I have just finished, part of a triptych of stories of people who have gone away.  The first of the three has come out in the UST literary journal, under the title “Winter Butterfly.”  This story I will tell you is the second of the triptych;  its title is “Interesting Paths.”

In the middle of winter, one of the worst for New York City, a young Filipina receives a white letter envelope marked “UNDELIVERABLE.”  She had mailed this some weeks before—to a young Filipino aboard a merchant ship plying the ocean from continent to continent.  They had met one fine day in Barcelona—only for a day—by accident.  She had been set upon by four teenagers, Spaniards, who had tried to rob and assault her.  He had come out of nowhere, seemingly, right into the teenagers’ midst and kung-fu-ed them to flight.

Because she was a nervous wreck, he took her to his hotel and they had spent the night together—just sleeping.  In the morning, as they prepared to leave for their respective lives, he had asked her to send him a photograph.  He gave her the name of his ship, of the company that owned it and his ports of call for the next three months.  It had taken a while for her to turn her attention to this promise, since her employers had taken her back to the Middle East where she was not allowed to leave the house.  She had to wait until her employers were assigned to New York—where, as she told herself time and again, she had “jumped ship”—i.e., fled her employers and assumed a life of an undocumented migrant.

In due time, she had had the photograph taken, slipped it into a letter envelope, addressed it and mailed it.  The first time it had returned, she had researched the ship’s company and the ship’s ports of call and all possible addresses which could be used.  Five more times, she had mailed the letter and it had returned.  She was now preparing to mail it again, happy in the thought that there would be a day when the young Filipino would know that a letter from the past had chased him all over the world.  She did not know that the beautiful young man she had met in Barcelona had been swept off his ship by a storm in the waters between Libya and Europe.

Saudade and sehnsucht—a longing for a past that never was and nostalgia for a future that will never be.  In a little story of our metamorphic fractured timeline.
Thank you very much. —#

Friends: Filmmaker Sari Dalena, bakery owner Wilson Lee Flores,women's rights activist Princess Nemenzo and Cristine Ebro. (Photo by Marknilo #09261287872)

Friends: Filmmaker Sari Dalena, bakery owner Wilson Lee Flores,women's rights activist Princess Nemenzo and Cristine Ebro. (Photo by Marknilo #09261287872)


 

PTSD

THE UNBEARABLE MOOD SNEAKED IN like a winter cold on a sunny day. The beginning was almost like a game, another one played by state forces on sullied individuals. The Philippines had approved, finally, almost three decades after the overthrow of the Marcos Dictatorship, that those who had suffered human rights violations would be compensated from Marcos accounts seized from a Swiss bank. The top compensation would be half a million pesos—at current rates, about $10,600. Yes, this was the first quirk thing that occurred; computations of the ridiculous running through my head . Twenty-eight years meant 336 months meant a $32.00 per month payment for waiting for rectification of a vast wrong.

Nevertheless, one took one’s courage in hand and downloaded the forms required to apply for compensation. A kind of reluctance made me do it only during the last weeks of the deadline for applications. The printer spewed out the forms and with a morbid cheerfulness, one proceeded to fill in the blanks—until one got to this portion:

HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS
(Please check applicable box)

▢ 1. Killed
▢ 2. Disappeared or still missing
▢ 3. Tortured
▢ 4. Raped or Sexually Abused
▢ 5. Illegally detained
▢ 6. Involuntarily exiled
▢ 7. Unjust or illegal detention takeover of business;
confiscation of property; illegal detention of owner/s
and/or their families; deprivation of livelihood
▢ 8. Victim’s child kidnapped or exploited
▢ 9. Sexually offended during detention and/or in the course
of military and/or police operations
▢ 10. Other violations and/or abuses similar or to 8 and 9,
please specify.

 

Please check box. Named and neatly package. All those images. Of a young man wearing a sling because interrogation had broken his arm and shoulder. Of a friend returning from an asylum hearing with her eyes swollen because she had had to recount all the abuses and foul words rained upon her head. Of a girl made to drink muriatic acid after being raped. Of faces and voices, recounting a cascade of inhuman things done inhumanly. And the coup de grace, a friend recounting how his family had asked repeatedly, after a female relative and her child had been taken, to please just return the five-year-old and ending the story with a desultory “they wouldn’t answer and it became obvious they killed the child, too.”

So I threw up all over the page.

Then followed a slide into the mood of martial law days. As four of us stood chatting at a corner of a Manhattan street, a voice said in my head: “too many of us together; we will be noticed.” Yes, three was already a crowd in those days, four was a rally, five was a demonstration. I kept an eye out for the water cannons, the line of shields and helmets about to come down the road.


"Of faces and voices, recounting a cascade
of inhuman things done inhumanly
."

 


 

I kept trying to write finish to the application forms, getting them notarized over and over again at the Consulate, and threatening to send them ASAP to Manila until the much-imposed-upon Mr. Clor of the Human Rights Victims’ Claims Board wrote back in exasperation, “why would you do that? I haven’t approved it as complete!?”

With equal exasperation, I wrote back, “I’d like to get this over as soon as possible. I am being triggered.”

And having written that down, I diagnosed myself as having flashbacks, a classic symptom of PTSD—or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I had begun to walk all over Manhattan, looking for a hiding place or perhaps, just trying to outrun a remembrance of things past.

The letters bounced around in my head for a while. I tried to change the signification of the acronym but could only come up with Part Time Subversive Decompensating.

Wry humor.

What saved many a sanity in the darkest of nights in the archipelago.

Then one early morning, chancing upon a diatribe by a dictator loyalist, I broke PTSD by flipping a finger at those who kept denying what tens of thousands knew had transpired. Damn ostrich heads in the sand.

Anger was a weapon for survival, too. Expletive deleted. —#

When Extradition is Tantamount to Trafficking

FRIDAY, OCT. 19, 40-year-old Grace Grande surrendered to the Los Angeles Attorney General’s office; she faces extradition hearings, based on a request from the Philippine government to the U.S. State Department.  The request alleges that Grande “stole” jewelry worth around $43,000 from a Nancy Manlangit, an employee of Philippine Congressman Patrick Antonio, with whom Ms. Grande had a 10-year relationship and by whom she has two sons. During that decade, Grande and her sons lived on the “down-low,” because the congressman was married. In 2007, the year the alleged theft took place, Grande had decided to end the relationship and left for the U.S.

What circumstance made Grande accept the life of a mistress–a querida or kabit in Philippine parlance–is no longer germane. A querida (which, ironically, is Spanish for beloved) has even less rights than a concubine, who is at least integrated into the patriarchal household.  The querida lives apart, often in isolation and surrounded by secrecy, with the man as the center of her life. He visits when he pleases; she is an accessory of his wealth, power and/or masculinity. He has rights over and to the querida; she has zero rights over him.  She is “kept,” private property. The system, learned from Spanish colonialism, is the underbelly of an absolute no-divorce government policy in the Philippines which, by and large, impacts women more harshly than men.


The querida lives apart, often in isolation and surrounded
by secrecy, with the man as the center of her life.
He visits when he pleases; she is an accessory of his wealth,
power and/or masculinity. He has rights over and to
the querida; she has zero rights over him.
She is “kept,” private property.

 


 

Queridas rarely fare well in the Philippines. In the end, they are abandoned, replaced by younger queridas, and become other men’s queridas. If they have daughters, it is likely they will become queridas as well. Dispensing with a querida is the man’s prerogative. Tales abound of queridas maimed, beaten up and/or killed when they choose to forgo the relationship. A politician during the administration of then-president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, chided for severely beating up a mistress who had left him, gave the classic response: “I was kind at that; I didn’t kill her.” For those who are indeed killed, there’s little justice, as the social reaction is that she deserves whatever punishment is dealt her for “choosing” to be a querida. In addition, querida owners are powerful men who can corrupt, intimidate and manipulate government institutions and officials. Medical records disappear, instant alibis created, facts obfuscated.

Since 2007, when Grace Grande decided to end her status as a querida and raise her children within an ethical paradigm, she has suffered: six months imprisonment by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), a five-year custody battle over her children and long-running court hearings on her political asylum petition as well as threats of legal and illegal persecution, bodily harm and loss of her children. For five years she and her children have been stalked and harassed.

Each incident seemed to have a separate cause, but the common thread binding them is the objective of compelling Grande to return to the Philippines and to the congressman’s power.  The theft charge, for instance, which was not investigated and was accepted by the Philippine court on the basis of affidavits, is grievous, as those accused of thefts of over $600 are not allowed bail in the Phillipines. If Grande is extradited, she will go directly to a Philippine prison, where anything can happen. Once she is in jail, her sons would likely be given over to their father. “If that happens, I can do nothing but return to him, “ said Grande, “as I will go where my children go.” In effect, she will be forced to return to sex slavery. (UPDATE: Grace Grande was allowed bail;  the judge chose three from the many community people offering to stand surety for her bail of $70,000–more than what she’s alleged to have stolen. Forums on her case are beginning to sprout in cities outside Los Angeles. Her supporters are putting together a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.)

There seems to be no way to stop this perversion of the U.S. legal process, which in this case virtually facilitates sex trafficking. As one lawyer commented, “I do not understand the aggressiveness with which this case against Grace Grande is being pursued.” Powerful institutions–from the Philippine juridical system to its foreign affairs department, from the U.S. Customs & Border Patrol to the U.S. embassy in Manila–seem to fall in line at the congressman’s command.  That may be par for the course in the Philippines, where justice misfires constantly, but as the U.S. issues an annual report that judges other countries on their efforts against trafficking, it is bitterly ironic.

 


Originally published in Ms. Magazine Blog on October 30, 2012.

Political Friction/Fiction

THE THEME OF OUR PANEL is from Hugo Chavez’s 2009 declaration at the Via Campesina conference in Brazil.  (Audience member said this was actually at the World Social Forum;  I checked and it was but the event was sponsored by the Via Campesina.) “True socialism,” he said,  “is feminist.” Three other Latin American presidents stood beside him:  from Ecuador, Bolivia and Paraguay.  It was President Rafael Correa of Ecuador who amplified the Chavez declaration, by saying that unlike traditional socialism, 21st century socialism includes gender justice, ethnic justice and inter-generational justice.  These issues are often considered “soft issues” by those who perceive class as the main or predominant system of oppression/ exploitation in society.

Despite this unequivocal declaration, those of us who work at the organizing of and advocacy for women continue to be at the receiving end of catcalls, continue to experience friction with other political groups and continue to be required to defend the ideological and political position we have taken.  These compel us to periodically examine the issue of intersectionality and why this concept is so difficult to integrate into the binary view of class conflict.  Several core or pivotal reasons come to the fore immediately:


"Those of us who work at the organizing of and advocacy
for women continue to be at the receiving end of catcalls, continue to experience friction with other political groups
and continue to be required to defend the ideological
and political position we have taken."

 


 

#1

the continued refusal to accept women’s historical scholarship and its findings that the reification of women’s knowledge, labor and bodies antedated the institutionalization of private property;  that in truth, such reification was integral to the creation of private property and that indeed, women comprised the first form of private property

#2

the insistence—and we can only call it a patriarchal insistence—on separating the category “women” from the category “people,” such that women’s liberation is often juxtaposed, contrasted, counter-poised, deemed secondary to people’s liberation.  In this view, women’s liberation is often reduced to a thin tissue of gender relations, rather than viewed as a comprehensive resolution of a complex set of contradictions affecting women, contradictions which, taken as a whole, actually condemn class society and demand its transformation.

#3

the dismissal or under-valuation of the dynamic between production and re-production—the non-integration of the latter in the social structural analysis, following the separation, during the Industrial Revolution, of home and workplace.  Ironically, this is a capitalist narrative, truly, that compartmentalizes human social existence, the better to inflict a higher rate of exploitation upon an atomized labor force.   In this narrative, only work is divorced and separated as a special human activity done under the aegis of capital;  only wage labor is recognized as work;  hence the oft-repeated and rather ludicrous prescription for women “to engage in production” in order to liberate themselves—ignoring the historical truth that women have always been engaged in production since the beginning of human history.

#4

the under-valuation of either or both generational and daily replenishment of labor in the cycle of production and reproduction of goods and services.  The cost of such replenishment has been borne by women, largely;  it is estimated that the global unpaid household labor of women annually amounts to $1 trillion—an unprecedented theft casually ignored in the Left’s creation of its laundry lists of demands.

#5

the neglect of structural analysis in the rather catastrophic failures of “socialist” societies—such analyses concentrating instead on what is claimed as “revisionist” interpretation of ideology.  Not much attention has been paid to how “socialist” societies have been organized, whether class hierarchy has been replaced by a hierarchy of privilege, and where women are located—socially, economically and politically speaking—in the new hierarchy; plus of course whether such a new hierarchy eventually leads to the (re) institutionalization of  exploitation, marginalization and dominance, all in the name of preserving the socialist state.

#6

and this is the last;  a great deal of feminist thought revolves around intersections of oppression.  The question of course is whether a class-based analysis or system of thought can encompass intersectionality,  or whether, dialectics notwithstanding, whether such will remain linear and cognizant of only one system of oppression.   (If we were to reduce this difference to a set of contrasting images, class analysis would be represented by a stack of taijitu,  seemingly different but remaining the same, property vs propertyless;  one set of contradictions rises to become “principal” as it moves toward maturity and others become “secondary” but the basic one is the same;   on the other hand, feminist analysis would be a pinwheel of interlocking taijitu, spinning not only through social space but also social time;  all sprouting from the central node of women’s oppression.) 

• • •

THERE ARE OTHER SOURCES OF FICTION, not the least being the ahistoricity and lack of context in dealing with women’s political language.  The most common critique against feminism is the supposedly bourgeois character of the call for equality, the assumption being that any and all calls for gender equality is based on equality within the status quo.  If I may cite Gloria Steinem, than whom there’s no more liberal feminist, she said it is not a merely a matter of  getting a larger share of the pie but rather of baking a whole new pie altogether.   In any case, there’s certainly a huge difference between the Facebook CEO calling for equality and a woman in India demanding equality.  History and context and structural matrix all seem to fly out the window where women’s political language is concerned.

I have only two more points:
  1. the traditional view of the separation of work and the rest of a human being’s existence—his/her familial, social and political life removed from his/her engagement in production—has had a devastating consequence for 250 million transnational labor.   These migrant workers have had their existence effectively divided;  thus, their socio-political life remains linked to a supposedly home country from which they are absent;  while their economic lives are spent in a country where they have absolutely no social existence.  (A World Bank apologist wrote that this was no different from commuting to the office from the suburbs.)   This is part of imperialism’s narrative of globalization, the creation of an international homeless population—or a population that has a “virtual” home, via photographs, memorabilia, letters, phone calls…  This is an international reserved pool of labor, subject to the most extreme exploitation and the most onerous of oppressions.
  2. the recent implementation of a Venezuelan law, passed by Chavez, granting pensions to full-time mothers—i.e., those who have not engaged as it were in “production”—points to a different way of viewing the contradiction between private and public spheres, a way of integrating them and a way of returning to the pre-class motive for social organizations.  That pre-class motive was very simply the preservation and continuation of the species.
I shall end here and perhaps our discussion will bring forth even more ideas.
Thank you.  #

• • •


One significant point brought up by a member of the audience was the issue of the autonomy of women’s progressive organizations and the friction caused when social transformation movements insist on using women’s organizations as an auxiliary force for the advance of general radical change but refuse to aid such organizations in the furtherance of changes needed for their collective liberation.  

One “reason” for such an “arrangement” underlies the oft-repeated question:  “are women liberated by people’s liberation and conversely, can women’s liberation liberate the people?’  Regarding the first clause, one can only cite the recent issuance of the All-China Women’s Federation which advised “leftover women” to focus less on their career so as to have a better chance at getting married.  Granted that the party that governs the All-China Women’s Federation has gone off its ideological rocker, the incident underscores the risks in being an auxiliary force.  So people’s liberation might liberate women along one axis but if its framework is masculinist or even non-cognizant of male privilege, such a women’s liberation will remain along one axis and not spill over to other systems of oppression. 

On the converse clause, one can only point to the transformational character of women’s activism and organizing, and their long-term impact on society.  For instance, labor unions in the US were NOT admitting women workers and workers of color until women workers organized and went on an all-women strike.  After that unions opened its doors to both women workers and workers of color.  Mathematically, one might add that if one liberated half or more than half of the population, wouldn’t that suffice to create a profound transformation? 


Black VenusThe annotated text of my presentation for the panel "Socialism is Feminist" at the Left Forum, June 8th, Pace University, New York)
This post was originally published in two parts: June 15, 2013 and June 20, 2013.

It Was a Firefly

The opening of the novel The Synchrony Tree.


 

IT WAS A FIREFLY — dropped onto the palm of her left hand, her fingers curling at once into a warm cage of flesh.

It was not a firefly.

It was a tear, fallen lightly, and perched moistly in the center of the palm of her left hand.

It was not a tear.

It was a demand;  a demand of a promise of a Return, dropped like a warm sea pebble into the salty moist cage of her fingers.

It was not a demand.  It was anticipation of a Return, a small light flashing with little shrieks of joy, warming the already warm cage the fingers of her hand made.

It was in her mind now, as she skirted snow dunes at two in the morning, shivering in her gray thrift-shop overcoat, black rubber galoshes crunching ice crystals underfoot.  She was in departure, in flight actually, and that was why Return was in her mind, the heat of it, this arctic morning before dawn.

She wished she were a penguin, though she'd never seen one.  Because it was so very very cold and walking was difficult, with a swollen backpack pulling her shoulders back, against her torso’s compulsion to fold into itself against the unbearable winter.  As a penguin, she could slide on her belly and ignore the ice.  She had never felt as vulnerable.   Nor as strong, because running away also meant returning.

Her mind had circled back, to Ylang-Ylang, standing in the middle of the lobby of the airport terminal, giving her a firefly, a tear, a demand, an anticipation.

Beside Ylang-Ylang stood a nut-brown ten-year-old girl of fine features and fingers so long, so slim, each nail perfect, that one knew immediately this was a pianist, had always been a pianist and will be a great one.  In her chocolate-brown eyes, the music danced, flashing like a firefly call.

Flordeliz’s heart had halved, one section falling with an unheard thud to the cold airport gray floor.  Because she loved her family—Ylang-Ylang and the daughter she’d borne when she was only 17 and had named Scheherazade, after the woman in the stories her only male lover had used to read to her and which name got shortened conveniently to She – because she loved this family, she had to leave them.

And because she loved them still, even in her and their absence, she was now running, on possibly the coldest night of winter in Warren, New Jersey, throwing herself down to her knees behind a glittering snow dune, to avoid being spotted by a police car one intersection away, its own lights staining the snow with intermittent red and blue.

She feared her employers had called the police, had accused her of stealing.  Not; she had only taken $200 from the kitchen money, what was due her.  But she could be accused of anything: stealing, drugs, assault, rape, murder, etc, because she had committed the worst crime of all, the very worst. She had allowed her tourist visa to lapse, after two three month extensions, and she was now undocumented. No greater crime could there be. #


 

Copyright © All rights reserved.

Short-Short Story

The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP)
had the national hero, Jose Rizal, who created the malevolent
character Fr. Damaso in the book Noli Me Tangere, exhumed,
propped up in the middle of Luneta Park, and shot by firing
squad all over again.

 


 

 

 

[Copyright;  all rights reserved.]

“The Legend of Mayang Makiling” as told by Ylang-Ylang

An excerpt from the novel The Synchrony Tree:

...

THE ALIENS TOOK THE MOST COMMON NAME and called her that, to make her an everyday thing but her true name was Mayang Makiling, avatar of the mountain looming over the emerald land which would later be called Laguna, its name and hers lost from racial memory.

Contrary to the way they described her, she was neither lissome nor fair nor wore a long skirt;  rather, she was stocky and not too tall, how else would the shrubs have been able to hide her?  But this was the way our old stories were revised to fit a slave mindset that made it amenable to conquest.  Mayang Makiling was brown-skinned, of that color we call kissed by the sun:  golden ochre, as it were.

All she wore was a tapis, a cloth wrapped around the hips, ends knotted, a skirt that never loosened, never needed fixing no matter how much she moved and it was made of the gold hair of the sun and the silver hair of the moon, gathered from twigs and branches where they had gotten entangled, and with the red of hibiscus and the green of ferns running through it so that when Mayang Makiling was still, she could not be discerned against the forest that was her home.

She wore a sickle-moon necklace glittering against her naked breasts;  gold bangles from wrist to elbow and around her ankles.  Her little fingers and little toes were tattooed with encircling tiny vines of fern.  She was born with those tattoos—and all her followers, the wind readers, carried the same mark from birth.

One other thing they never say about Mayang Makiling: her breath misted, like the morning fog gathered at the mountain crest at dawn.  When she spoke, her breath was a slight mist, hard to discern in the full strength of the noon sun but visible in the morning and late afternoon, a breath perfumed by wild jasmine flowers.  A retinue of wild animals followed her:  the civet, now extinct;  the wild water buffalo called the tamaraw, now driven from its old haunts, the gold-headed eagle, now extinct, and a dazzling wild rooster called the labuyo, which was expropriated by the aliens and turned into a familiar of a male saint and a favorite of cockpit gamblers.


"When she spoke, her breath was a slight mist,
hard to discern in the full strength of the noon sun
but visible in the morning and late afternoon,
a breath perfumed by wild jasmine flowers."

 


 

The tamaraw carried her weapons of war on her back:  the machete whose edge never dulled, the spear with its poisoned iron tip, the shield with its runes and cabalistic signs.  The labuyo and the eagle were her scouts – one on the ground, the other in the air;  the civet was her comrade-in-arms. Where her bare feet touched the soil, plants sprouted and bloomed in frenzy;  and she had but to touch a tree trunk to make the whole tree shiver with delight and put forth leaves, flowers, fruits…  This was why she was revered and tribal people left her such delicacies as she couldn’t make herself, sweet rice cakes like the sapin-sapin, kalamay, suman and sometimes, in a bamboo tube, ginger tea.

She had a rule about reciprocity and always gave back, occasionally not what the supplicant asked for but what was fair for everyone—her way of teaching her people that even desire had to be considered within the matrix of the tribe.  Her home mountain was not desecrated, until the aliens came and laid waste to its thousand-year-old mahogany and teak for their homes, their ships, for tables and chairs and church pews – which, being dead anyway, brought no joy and eventually rotted away in more ways than one.

When Mayang Makiling lost her animals, she wept for a hundred years but the river of tears did not lessen her grief and she could think of no recourse except to curl up in a cave, to sleep, vowing to awaken only at the call of the civet, the tamaraw, the eagle and the labuyo.  In her sleep, she weeps and torrents run down the mountain side, flooding rivers and towns, overflowing the lake.  Don’t let them tell you it was all about a perfidious young man and romance.  Her heart was broken by home’s destruction.  We lost her and we will never see one like her again and only the sea will come to take back her home and her broken heart.  —#

The Day Manila Fell Silent..

IRONICALLY, THE MOST QUIET DAY IN MANILA of contemporary times began with noise: a loud pounding on the glass door of a penthouse apartment I was using at the time.  The friend who was hollering and shouting and bruising his knuckles on the glass, blurted out, as soon I slid the door open, “martial law na[martial law already]”  A split second of silence;  then I pivoted and clicked on the radio.  Nothing but white noise.  Turned on the TV.   Nothing but a white screen and static.  Distraught friend said, “no TV, no radio station… everything’s closed down.”  We eyeballed each other.  The previous night’s last news item on TV flashed into my mind:  a still photo of a car, its roof collapsed, windshield shattered; a male voice saying that the car of the Secretary of National Defense had been attacked but he had not been in it… It was truncated news; I thought,  “what?  An empty car was bombed?”  As I was going to bed, I noticed that the government building behind our apartment building was all lit up:  floor after floor, from top to bottom, blazing with lights.  I said then, “something’s happening; and it’s happening all over the city.”

Now this friend stuttering about martial law triggered an avalanche of images in my brain.  This would become a habit with me ever after, this going into mental hyperdrive, correlating incidents and data, during crisis.  The cascade stopped with the face of a smiling Senator Benigno Aquino, as he said to me,  while we stood in the red carpeted foyer of the old Senate, “Marcos will not catch me lying down.”  I’d asked about Oplan Sagittarius, rumored to be the secret blueprint for martial law.  We’d all assumed that if ever, it would go into effect in November-December.  So I just teased the senator, calling him President Aquino.  It would be my last face-to-face with him.  In 1983, when he was assassinated, I muttered to myself, “I’d better fix my papers; Marcos will fall.”  I was in New York City by then.  I had filed for political asylum but it was just in stasis.

What is the point of this recollection?  It is to stress that martial law was personal… PERSONAL.  Everyone felt it, was affected by it, had an opinion, a thought, a feeling, about it.  The day it was declared, with a friend standing there, his hair practically on end, I remembered how, a week before, a minor journalist on the military beat had generously offered to check if my name and address were on an arrest order.  Young though I was, I wasn’t exactly naïve.  I gave him an old address.  Sure enough, the place was raided.


"What is the point of this recollection?
It is to stress that martial law was personal… PERSONAL.
Everyone felt it, was affected by it, had an opinion,
a thought, a feeling, about it."

 


 

We moved quickly.  I had to find a secure telephone so I could find out what had happened, was happening.  Outside, it was so quiet, so quiet…  Manila had always been a noisy city:  music blaring from car and jeepney radios, from juke boxes;  television noises;  people yelling.  But this day, it was so very, very quiet.  Aboard a jeepney, there was only desultory human voices:  para, mama;  sa kanto lang…  No music; no talking; and we avoided one another’s eyes.  We were all beginning to be locked within; imprisoned as it were.  When the jeepney passed a newspaper building with its front doors barred by rolls of concertina wire, we all took a sidelong glance and averted our eyes.  We did not want to seem overly interested.  We were beginning to learn NOT to call attention to ourselves – a very strange thing for Filipinos who, to this day, love to strut and crow and flap wings.

Being a journalist, my first impulse was to call the National Press Club.  I asked for Tony Zumel, who was NPC president at the time.  The secretary — she was called Baby, if memory serves me right — upon hearing my name, switched to this unusually saccharine vocal inflexion :  “haaaay, hello, how are you…long time no hear”—which nobody but nobody used with me at the NPC.   I asked for Tumel, our nickname for Zumel; and she sang out, “Oooooh, he’s not here.  I don’t know where he is.”  Pause.  I asked, “military there?”  And she said, “Yessss…”  Nothing left but to say thanks, goodbye.

Years later, in 1986, with Marcos still in power, I’d be in the same building, looking for Tony Nieva’s office which was at the back of the NPC.  A young cigarette vendor asked what I was looking for;  I inadvertently said, “the office of Tony Zumel.”  His eyes glazed and he looked far, far, far away, seemingly at a caravan crossing the desert, and answered, softly, “ay, matagal na pong wala iyon…matagal na. [He’s been gone a long time. A long, long time.]”  I looked at him with wonder, a kid with an unbreakable connection to history.

 


"His eyes glazed and he looked far, far, far away, seemingly at a caravan crossing the desert, and answered, softly, “ay, matagal na pong wala iyon…matagal na. [He’s been gone a long time. A long, long time.]”  I looked at him with wonder, a kid with an unbreakable connection to history." 

 


 

It was personal.  It was not just a piece of paper with a signature, not just a voice making the announcement;  it wasn’t even the orders barked at rows of khaki- or fatigue-uniformed men.  It was an absolute threat, a palpable danger, a loss of self-power and security.  It endangered the usual, the common, the ordinary details of daily life.  Years later, Rodolfo Salas, then chair of the Communist Party of the Philippines, would tell me of how about 200 students ran for their Central Luzon guerrilla base, throwing his group into a tizzy — though it’s hard to imagine Bilog, as we called him, even slightly nervous.  “We had to feed them,” he said smiling, “and used up in one day our month’s supply.”  Bilog then instructed his unit to interview each student.  Those not under direct threat would return to town or city to help in the resistance.  Those with “serious threats” would be given the choice of moving elsewhere:  northern, southern Luzon;  the Visayas;  Mindanao.  He said that some who were not under direct threat chose to be sent elsewhere, willing to take on the very difficult task of opening new guerrilla fronts.

Romantic in the telling, it wasn’t, in reality.  The half-joke then was that if one survived for a year in the countryside, one was already a veteran.  Still, many chose this manner of struggle.  Because martial law was personal.

A lexicon grew for clandestine work, so that information could be imparted without naming the information.  Sunog meant raid, capture.  Nanununog meant someone was talking.  Nasunog meant someone had been betrayed.  And of course, at the end of every meeting, INGAT, which recently is translated as “take care.”  No nothing as innocuous as that.  It meant “be careful” out there.  And as if to underscore the intellectual underpinnings of the budding movement, the Communist Party was the Q, following the symbolic logic formula, if p then q.

Thus the struggle against martial law would begin—quietly, carefully, slowly, in a process of learning,, unlearning and refinement as it went along.  It was fought not only with guns, since even guerrillas could not survive without supplies and there were no deep bases as yet.  Supply teams were set up in Manila for various regions, because while there was food of a sort in the countryside, there was little by way of cash.  Certain things just had to be bought.  I recall at the time that the request for supplies for the Cordillera region, then called Montanosa, came to a measly 800 pesos a month.  For as long as I could, I gave all of it.

One early coup de plume would cheer the city of Manila, at least.  A poem, well written, was published by a magazine controlled by Marcos’s cronies.  Just a little poem but all the letters starting each line, when scanned downward, read:  Marcos, Hitler, Diktador, Tuta…  Via the grapevine, we learned almost instantly it had been done by Pete Lacaba.  The owners tried to have all the copies recalled but one was delivered to my residence, so I was fortunate enough to have seen it with my own eyes.  This kind of daring would set the tone for the struggle’s propaganda.

The first issue of Liberation came out in 1975, I believe.  The making of it had its comedic moments.   Since the cover had to be photo-stenciled, one young man went to a Makati Gestetner store, pretended to be buying a machine, and when the sales agent was distracted by a phone call, loaded the designed front page into the machine.  Remember that one had to apply for a license to even have a mimeograph machine.  Distribution of copies was done by a Volkswagen so old its driver door kept swinging open every 350 meters, as it were, revealing all the newsletter stacks on the backseat.  But by 1986, I was assured that copies were being inserted into Marcos’s election propaganda, distributed by his party for the election.  It was no longer the mimeographed version I was familiar with; it was printed, likely by the same printing presses doing Marcos’s propaganda and equally likely, paid for by the same budget appropriation.

The struggle learned how to struggle and in that learning were many, many stories – of rage and laughter, of loss and gains.  The death of Puri Pedro, murdered by a military officer, was a palpable pain over our neighborhood.  The escape of political prisoners, on the other hand, brought an almost carnival mood.  It is my hope that one day, all stories will be told, affirming that those who were imprisoned — 100,000 by the then Secretary of Defense own admission – can be named; that those who were murdered – 3,000 plus have been documented but more died in so-called “encounters” – can be named;  and those who disappeared – 759 documented, though there were more – can be named.

For on the day Manila fell quiet, it was not only noise, music, talk, chatter, the hum of a vibrant life, that martial law sought to take away from us.  Martial law sought to reduce the millions of names in the archipelago to the handful of the Marcos clan and cronies, denying millions the right to be, to exist, to be named.  Martial law reduced the entire population of the archipelago to the Marcos clan and cronies;  nobody else was of significance;  no one else’s desire, wishes, goals and dreams mattered.  Martial law sought to erase all of us, rendering us merely props on the stage where the supposed magnificent destiny of clan and cronies would unfold.  Martial law dehumanized us, rendered us NAMELESS.  We were all rendered non-persons.  The response was to take martial law as personal and to work for both an individual and collective democracy fascism couldn’t break.  This was done in the interfaces of life which couldn’t be policed, away from surveillance, in the days most quiet need.  From time to time, the little noises would break out into a huge yell – a noise barrage protesting the fraudulent Manila election; students banging on the door bars and window rails quickly installed at university campuses.

 


"Martial law sought to erase all of us,
rendering us merely props on the stage
where the supposed magnificent destiny of clan
and cronies would unfold. Martial law
dehumanized us, rendered us NAMELESS.
We were all rendered non-persons." 

 


 

FORTY YEARS LATER, here we are, in a re-collection of those times, at a cool basement gallery, in a neighborhood of a city so different from the terrain where what we have re-collected occurred.  We are on the other side of the globe, though I’m pleased to remember the first reading ever honoring the murdered poet Emman Lacaba (at the Bowery church) and the first reading honoring murdered and imprisoned Filipino poets (sponsored by PEN American Center for which it was excoriated by the head of PEN Philippines) took place in this city – two events I was fortunate to help set up.

In our own fashion, in the Philippines, in the US and wherever we were, we dealt with martial law and the continued usurpation of the archipelago by the Marcos Clan and Cronies.  We learned as we went along, as martial law was a very new thing, we had no models of resistance to it.  But we learned, making as much noise as possible as we learned, and we learned very well indeed.

Which is why the national (official) reluctance to deal with martial law, to name it for what it was,  to extract justice for the damage it inflicted upon people and the islands—this reluctance has been so distressing.  The revision of history began almost at once, and it took the form immediately of denying the power of the people in the overthrow of the Marcos Dictatorship.  Instead, the overthrow has been ascribed to a few names—“heroes”—and supernatural elements.  Hell, if people hadn’t taken their courage in hand, all the “heroes” would have died under tank fire.  But so it goes;  the rich and powerful preserve their own construct.   Victims of human rights violations remain bereft of justice; those who imprisoned, murdered, raped, still walk untrammeled and often in power;  those who shared in the division of loot and turf continue to hold on to what they had stolen – even as the people, yes, the people, were being reduced to metaphorical observers in the narrative of the struggle against martial law.

Because of this national (official) reluctance,  the legacy of martial law continues:  the impunity of assassinations, murder and relentless violence, warlordism and turfism, the perverse view that public money is the private treasury of those in authority and the idea that the people are unthinking lumps of matter entitled only to lies and trickery.  How steadily amnesia has taken over minds and hearts – with those who should be in disrepute elevated to pedestals of respect.  Marcos Clan and Cronies are finger-painting daisies on a curtain being drawn over the putrid night of the martial law years.  Their egos, swollen with the unlimited self-indulgence of the martial law years, have not shrunk to proper proportions.  Only truth can do that;  only justice can do that.


"Forty years after Manila fell silent, let us push away the cacophony of lies and sink ourselves once more into the quiet truth of that day.  Because as martial law was personal then, it is still personal now." 

 


 

FORTY YEARS AFTER MANILA FELL SILENT, let us push away the cacophony of lies and sink ourselves once more into the quiet truth of that day.  Because as martial law was personal then, it is still personal now.

As they seek to perpetuate the legacy of martial law, we must perpetuate the legacy of those who fought it.  What can we, who live so far from the hard heat of a Philippine summer, the cool of monsoon rains, what can we do—we who are on the other side of the globe, in a strange city, in a strange neighborhood and who are now gathered today in a cool basement gallery, so very different from the terrain visited by martial law?

Many of you weren’t even born yet when Marcos was overthrown, much less when martial law was declared.  And yet here we all are, fighting NOT to be nameless in this neighborhood, this city, this state, this country, in the intricate workings of capital.

Through the years I have seen and been engaged in many big and small movements, artistic and political and often both; they waxed and waned, surged and ebbed, and petered out, even as our numbers increased.  Many poets, many writers, many painters, many sculptors of  Filipino descent worked and struggled in this country, trying to bring an awareness of what has transpired, is transpiring, in 7,000 islands on the other side of the globe.  And like a Sisyphean task, we have seen the words we wrote, images we drew, figures we shaped, shatter and fade even as we continued to write, to draw, to sculpt.

There is a need for permanence to our work, a deep-rootedness, to mark it as of this place though prism-ed by events elsewhere.  We need to affirm that we are of this place and of this time, though our lineage may be elsewhere.  We need affirm our right to be here—to be visible and engaged in this country, to be as a branch of the banyan tree which, even as it issues forth from the mother trunk, seeks to sink its own roots into the alien loam.  By affirming our right to be here, our right to fashion a life and a destiny for ourselves here, by affirming our right and duty to make history in the time and place of our lives, by affirming our right to have a name, as it were, here, we defeat the original intent of martial law.  In the process, we also help create a genuine democracy for ourselves, our communities, our brothers and sisters of different colors and different ethnicities. And that, as we did learn in the years following the day Manila fell silent, is the path to victory.

Thank you and, because dangers continue, INGAT— #

...


 

Talk at the Bliss on Bliss Studio, Queens, New York City;  September 9, 2012;  third part of Re-Collection, A Commemoration of the Anniversary of the Declaration of Martial Law in the Philippines, the first two being an art exhibit and an installation/performance.

The text was also published in Doveglion Press on September 12, 2012.