Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Truth About My Citizenship

For quite some time now, I've struggled with the idea of citizenship.  It's been nine years since I migrated to the U.S. from the Philippines.  The last time I went back home to Manila was five years ago and it was only a very short two-week visit. During that trip, I hardly had time to see all of my friends and family, let alone keep abreast of the latest social and political events happening at the time.  Here in the States, I gained my citizenship back in 2008.  Do I now consider myself American?  I mean, is 'American' a label I would use on myself in casual conversations?  Honestly, no. The trouble is, do I feel I have the full right and pride to identify myself as a 'Filipino citizen' either, given that I don't live there, don't pay taxes anymore, don't get to vote, and have not been fully updated on all current events?  Again, the answer is no.  Though I feel more Filipino than American because of my ethnicity and culture, I no longer feel justified in calling myself a 'Filipino citizen' because technically, I really no longer am.

For so long now, I've felt that I'm still not 'American' enough to claim the label, while all along also feeling like a hypocrite for still clinging to the label 'Filipino' when identifying myself.  I'm neither here nor there and it's a sense of limbo that's, frankly, quite unpleasant.

This past week though, my confidence in affirming myself as 'Filipino' was rekindled.  For those of you who are not aware, a huge rally was organized just this past Monday to protest against widespread corruption in Philippine government. (You can read about it here).This issue of graft and corruption is not at all new and unique to this present administration.  It has been going on for decades, through different administrations, in varying degrees.  The issue is complex (to say the least) and it is truly an understatement to say that the problem is so deeply-rooted, that you can say it has become institutional.  People are getting very tired of it though, and now more and more are screaming 'enough is enough!'  

Thanks to social media, people like myself were reached and our sense of nation awakened albeit virtually.  I found myself once again eager and involved, even if it only meant sharing articles online, commenting and showing my support to the protesters through Facebook statuses and Tweets. 

Deep down I knew I am still very much Filipino and still felt invested in my country's future, even though I live a continent away.  With this sense of involvement awakened, somehow I was able to affirm my identity as 'Filipino' and finally feel comfortable about it.  The truth is, I can say that I am no more passionate about healthcare reform or the Affordable Care Act here in America, than I am of the issue of the pork barrel and corruption in the Philippines. Both are equally important in my view, and certainly awaken the activist in me. 

A blogger friend of mine describes herself a 'citizen of the world' mainly because she says she feels at home where ever her travels take her. Technically, the term 'citizen' denotes a contract between self and society.  It refers to certain rights and obligations, and as I've mentioned, this includes things like paying taxes, being able to participate in political life, and serving your government and country.  But perhaps my friend is right.  That in this postmodern age where people are globally mobile and no one ever hardly stays put where they were born, 'citizenship' at its core becomes about sentiments, feelings of being connected, and having a sense of commitment and concern for that nation's social, political and economic reality and FUTURE.  

The truth is, I now feel at home in both countries, the Philippines and the U.S. I can honestly say I belong in both, especially now that I have a son who was born here in the States.  I have roots planted in both and though the strength and depth of those roots differ, they both still ground me, and nourish me , constantly shaping me into the person I continue to become.  In this sense both places, both societies are integral parts of who I am now, and I owe it to both to care about their respective futures.  And frankly, in this global and modern world where geographic lines continue to be blurred, each nation's future cannot be seen as independent from another's present.  In this sense, perhaps it would be wise if all of us turned into genuine 'citizens of the world'.   

Are you also a migrant like myself?  What are your thoughts on your sense of 'citizenship'?

Or maybe you're also a 'citizen of the world'?  Any insights you'd like to share?

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Let's Talk, Not Judge

We've all seen it before in movies.  (And I do pray you've only seen it movies and never in real life).  The scene involves an American and an Asian (typically Chinese), where the American readily and ignorantly assumes that the Asian does not speak, nor understand English, and so he ends up speaking ever so s----l---o---w-----l------y, and in the process inadvertently raising his voice which turns everything into a borderline scream.

It's kind of funny, and ALWAYS makes the American character (never the Asian) look foolish.  Fortunately, such an extreme situation has never happened to me. I've had people wonder about my ethnicity, and also have had some wonder how I learned to speak English so well.  I've also certainly met a few who avoided me for conversations simply because they prejudged me based on my race, automatically assuming that it would be a pain to talk to me, whether it's because of my accent or lack of intellect.  Ironically though, people who always assume that I'm not 'smart' enough for them are usually at least one of three things:  much less formally educated than I am; are conservative in their political and general worldview; or ones who have never traveled much before or have never ever been exposed to other cultures. Go figure.  If it's none of the above, usually that leaves only one other explanation:  It's either the person's a plain racist or a bigot.  Different terms, same species.

A very good friend of mine has been experiencing an annoyance of this kind recently.  My friend is also Filipino like myself.  She went to university, then successfully finished law school, practiced law and in between managed to obtain two more post graduate degrees from two other foreign universities, one of which was here in the U.S.  Suffice to say she is highly educated and is a professional, now working with other professionals here in the States.  The 'annoyance' stems from the fact that one of her co-workers, when conversing with her, always stops himself when he uses idioms.  He pauses and always asks my friend if she understands what he means when he says things like "slap on the wrist", or "ball is in your court", or some other commonly used idiom. My friend is non-confrontational, so other than assuring the co-worker that she does understand, she doesn't really roll her eyes or show him that she feels insulted by all this. The co-worker is not malicious when he does this and is really just sincerely well-meaning. That's why my simple advice to my friend was for her to say something like this when she gets into that situation again with this person:

"I'm not going to beat around the bush.  
When you check to see if I understand what is normally 
a piece of cake to common people, it either makes me just want to 
either clam up or foam in the mouth.  
The point is I have a good brain.  And I'm qualified to be here.  You need to trust that when I got hired, 
people did not bet on the wrong horse.  
You also need to trust that when we are discussing work, 
we are on the same page...always. Kapish?"

That ought to take care of it, don't you think?

File:Two-people-talking-logo.jpg To be honest, personally, it's not formal English that people like me normally have trouble with, but slang terms and expressions. Yes, I'm educated. And though my degrees are from a Philippine (and not American) university, I've had both my undergraduate and master's degree evaluated here in the States and they've been certified as equivalent to U.S. degrees.  Despite that, and all the exposure I had to Western culture while living in the Philippines, I still won't claim to be familiar with all the less formal aspects of the English language (and culture).  Maybe it's also my age and my being a bit old-fashioned when it comes to grammar and language in general that prevent me from fully grasping 'expressions' or modern day slang with all their nuances. Here are a few examples I can think of right now.

One time I was watching the HGTV show of one of their more popular female designers.  She saw a wall paper that had a really interesting design which obviously pleased her in terms of how it made the room look.  She said, "That wall paper is jut ridiculous". Since when did ridiculous become a positive term?

Then on another real estate show, a buyer was shown a vacation home in Hawaii where there was a breathtaking view of the ocean.  The buyer said, "Whoa!  This view is sick!"  I took a pause, literally, felt utterly disoriented for a brief moment, and then was forced to learn my lesson right there and then. Who would've thought 'sick' would evolve into something that would represent such a positive and pleasurable experience?  

I once sent out an online invitation to some friends and someone responded with "I'm down" followed by a smiley face. I was completely confused by this. I thought she was saying no to the invite but I wondered why there was a happy face.  All along, I thought 'down' meant something negative; a 'no' response'; a turning down of an offer made.  Who knew I was soooo wrong?

I'm sure my list will continue to fluctuate.  I'm sure that as I grasp the real meanings of these slang words or expressions, new ones will emerge that will continue to confuse me a little.  But don't sweat it.  Don't worry too much about me or people like me who have English only as a second language. Speak as you normally would; not to confuse, not to exclude anyone, but merely to express your self as best and as clearly as you can.  Have conversations with us like you normally would.  Open yourself to the possibility that you can also learn from us, even if it's just from the mere experience of speaking with someone new.  We don't need to look alike, have the same skin color, or accent for us to genuinely understand each other.  We only need to have open minds.

Are you a native English speaker who has an interesting story or insight to share involving conversing with non-native English speakers?  

Or maybe you're one like me, having English only as a second language? Have you been in less-than-ideal situations because of challenges in communication?

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Don't Judge Me By My Yard

Who among you have received 'love letters' from your home owners' association (HOA)?  Please raise your hand.  And by 'love letters' I mean 'notices of non-compliance' to some rule or regulation in your subdivision; letters informing you of a violation.

Well, we have and apparently, we are not maintaining 'proper landscaping'. Our grass has become too tall for their liking and the weeds in our backyard have probably become an eye-sore to them.

If I declared that my yard is haunted, do you think that's an excuse that would fly with our HOA?  Would that be reason enough to explain why grass and weeds just miraculously grow at a rate so alarming we just can't keep up with it?  Is it compelling enough to make them understand why we let three weeks pass without mustering the courage to step out and do yard work?  

I hate myself for allowing to be shamed by my own yard.  I was talking to a neighbor a few days ago and when he asked me which one my house was and I pointed, I could almost see the judgement in his face when he glanced at my yard.  I didn't know which option was better at the time --- be swallowed by the earth right there and then, or growl at him and scare him to death.  As they say, it's always between fight or flight.  

I also hate the HOA for insisting that they sent us a 'Courtesy Notice' when there hasn't been any, and then sending a second notice with such an annoying tone to it.  (Yes, no one, especially me, loves to be told what to do and be made to feel inadequate!).  

I hate the super disciplined homeowners even more, with their perfectly maintained grass, all trimmed and oh so green, making ours stand out even more as a 'not-so-pretty' yard.  Don't these people have anything else to do but plant and mow their lawns?  Or throw money at lawn maintenance people to care for their yards?  

File:Rotten trunk in front of an old house overgrown with grass.jpg
No, this is not our house and it's not this bad yet!

I never denied that I'm a generally anxious person.  And frankly I don't need this kind of anxiety, wondering if our 'lawn guy' would show up today or not because of the weather.  And if he doesn't show up to mow our lawn, the deadline that our beloved HOA gave us for mowing will pass and we could expect 'further action' from them.  (Don't you just love those threats?)

It's during these times when I get so tempted to just either pour concrete all around our property, or put down synthetic grass...(yes, cheesy, yet practical!)...

I often wonder how expensive some of my neighbors' water bills are.  I see some of them turn on their sprinklers regularly and I consider it almost immoral.  I wonder if they think of the environment.  I wonder if they are aware of the threat of a global water crisis.  Seriously, it's not like our property resembles a forest.  And although I do acknowledge the need to look pretty and presentable in order to preserve property values, in the grand scheme of things, are perfectly cut and green grass, and amazing landscaping more important than saving water and spending your money elsewhere?  Just sayin'.....

No, I'm not suddenly invoking my socially aware and environmentalist self just because it's suddenly convenient, just so I can justify a less-than-ideal yard and our failure to mow every single freakin' week.  We do take responsibility for it and acknowledge that we dropped the ball somewhere, somehow.  I just really needed to vent and say that I detest the irony in all this.  We spend our whole lives wanting to be adults so we can do what we want and not have people control us.  And, at least in American society and most other cultures, home ownership is seen as the ultimate rite of passage to real 'adulthood' and independence.  And yet in most cases, we find ourselves enslaved by our own homes, with its demands and the inevitable responsibilities that come with it, HOA membership included, that always dictate what we can and cannot do. What painful irony, isn't it?  I suppose we need to teach our children early on in life that 'adulthood' is much like 'superheroship'...that "with great power comes great responsibility"....and an almost inevitable relationship with an HOA.  *sigh*

Have you ever been in violation of an HOA rule?  Are there any rules where you live that you think are simply absurd or borderline oppressive? Please feel free to share and / or vent!   

Friday, August 9, 2013


This past week has been very busy but extremely fun and refreshing for me at the same time.  A very good and old friend of mine, with her family, visited us from Canada.  This is a friend I met in college so we're talking of 20+ years of friendship here.  And since Bff also lives in the area, it was like a mini reunion for the three of us (sans 4 other members of our group who are based in the Philippines).

As expected there was a lot of joking, reminiscing, venting and overall therapy that went on.  I guess when you're with old friends, people you have a long history with, you can't help but discuss the past.  People you all knew, crushes and loves long past, teachers you hated and adored, classmates and 'friends' who made you prefer a root canal over the thought of spending a minute of alone time with them...all these things kind of force you to assess how your life is right now.  Have we changed much?  How far have we gone? Do we like the changes we see?  Who are we now?  Is this the life we've always envisioned for ourselves?  Do we have any regrets?  Where do you think are we headed?

There's much to think about and answer, and though I haven't processed everything that well YET, I couldn't help but be reminded of the movie Flight of the Butterflies.  Our family saw this on IMAX this past June and what truly stuck with me is the butterfly's process of metamorphosis.  

The movie was about the Monarch butterflies and it was so interesting how the process of transformation from caterpillar to butterfly is quite 'violent', for lack of a better term.  When the caterpillar retreats into the chrysalis, the same enzymes it uses to digest its food now 'digests' its own body.  Most of the caterpillar's tissues get broken down, while some get transformed to parts it would need as a butterfly.  

Photo Credit:

This is a creature that needs to die in order to live again, and live fully, to reach its full potential.  I find it interesting that it's almost like having two lives, isn't it?  It's as if the caterpillar retreats back into the womb, transforms, and is born a second time as something almost completely different.

Sometimes I think of my life like that.  Or I would like to think of my life like that.  There are a lot of things we can't control in this life and it's just how things need to flow, need to be.  We have our own paths and most often than not, we need to die somehow, whether it's a part of us or just something we possess that we need to give up, in order for the next step, next event, to unfold.  A self-reinvention is always necessary.  Changes happen and such metamorphoses are not always painless and smooth.  We shed things.  We leave things and people behind.  At times we need to wait until the time is right and we are ready for the next stage, the next change, the next new life. And really all we can hope and strive for is that, after each process of death and transformation, that we end up truly exhibiting our highest state, where we are most magnificent, ready to fly and be the being that we have always been meant to be....where ever we are, regardless of what we do.

How many deaths and rebirths can you count in your present life?