Monday, May 9, 2011

BELOW is a reaction/elaboration to a previous comment on my Facebook page—in regards one of my poems. Here is the poem—adapted from a Diane Burns poem of the same title:

Ask Me a Personal Question

You are puzzled and want to know.
No, I'm not Chinese. Not Thai, not Hmong.
No, not Mexican or Puerto Rican.
So you think I am maybe American Indian;
an Indian, but not from India.
So you think we are extinct?
A Navajo. Sioux? Or maybe just Indian.
But sorry, I can't make it rain tomorrow,
check the Weather Channel out.
I don't know how to powwow
and I haven't been to a sweat lodge.
No, I don't know where to buy Navajo rug
real cheap. My necklace, I didn't make this,
not at all. I bought it at Wal-Mart,
and this came from China.
No, we don't drop on our knees
at a tip of a hat to pray to our God.
But we do pray to a God with a face
and body like yours.

So you also think I am Filipino.
from the Philippines; but sorry,
It is not a province in India.
Although sometimes you think
I am not actually Asian,
you do believe that I drink sake at sunup
instead of coffee, when all I want
is Heineken or red wine.
No, I don't eat snakes or crickets.
And certainly, I don't eat dogs,
except when it's Super Bowl weekend
(but, of course, I am only kidding).
I don't use chopsticks or my bare hands
when I chow down lasagna at Olive Garden either,
and I read Kafka and shakes my hip
to Li'l Wayne and Foo Fighters
just like my homeys in South LA.
I also know how to negotiate Interstate 40
without a GPS. But I don't listen to the wind's
direction either.
I do speak English--yes, I do
I am sorry that you can't make out any sense
from my weird accent
but like my friend in Tennessee,
I just love the sound of her words
each time she talks--
sometimes that's all that matters.

Yes, some of us maybe American Indians
and Filipinos do drink too much.
But some of us don't even drink Corona Lites
or Diet Pepsi.
We did not come from Mars.
This is not a stoic look.
This is just my face.

by Pasckie Pascua
(with apologies to Diane Burns)

MOST of us, especially Americans, came from so many ethnicities/bloodlines… Same with Filipinos—we are very mixed (Austronesian, Malayan, Spanish, American, and other Asian-Pacific lineage)—and our (acquired) sensibility/sensitivity are influenced by colonizers (Spain and America) and other people who traded business with us in the past, up to the current times. The Philippines’ strategic location in the South China Sea is very significant as trading post for sailing/wayfaring merchants and refueling station and defensive fort during war for the US, primarily. But then, that’s an entirely different discussion, although significantly related to my point.
Main subject, my poem: Am I offended by questions/queries about my ethnicity? It’s more a question of how these questions were formulated or delivered. Let me cite two contrasting sets of questions/questioning (in public) posed to me:
(1) “What is your ethnicity? You have an interesting face…” A young lady at Westville Pub (where I usually hang near my `hood in Asheville) asked me. I noticed that she’s been staring at me for minutes. It was an honest curiosity… which is fine. Many Americans are not aware or well-informed of ethnic/tribal backgrounds of people beyond whites and blacks (Afro-Americans). I taught or lectured in public schools here and I am a bit fascinated and mildly surprised that many (American) youths thought that the Philippines is a province in India or a part of Hawaii, some even believed the country is located in South America. So when they see a Filipino who look like white or Chinese or Mexican, they get confused. So I explain… (Besides that, as I suspected, the Westville Pub lady thought I was Native American Indian, “but not really, I think…”)
(2) “Do you know how to speak English?” / “Do you have cable TV and computers in the Philippines?” / “Do you eat dogs in the islands?” Surely, these questions reek of ignorance—it sort of dismisses Filipinos as illiterates and/or savages. I must admit that some Filipinos dine on dog meat—but it isn’t a sweepingly simplistic issue of carnivorous disregard of animals just because most Americans treat their pet dogs as intimate members of the family. In the same way as some Hindus or East Indians don’t eat cow meat and Muslims don’t eat pork, there is always a cultural/religious/creed-related reason to people’s behaviors, eg some northern tribes in Luzon island (in the Philippines) regard dog meat as medicinal, eg some Vietnamese people regard cobra blood in the same light… Otherwise, what’s the difference between dog meat and hog meat when it comes to food… So when defensive or offended “ethnics” counter-charge: “So you don’t eat dogs, but you justify your wars, instead?” the counter-slurs remain unabated.
One time, I was reading a New York Times at a subway in NY. A white man was kind of ogling at me and/or the newspaper on my hand. Then he asked me, “Do you understand English?” So I glared back at him and said, “Yes, I do. I am Swedish.”

QUESTIONS like those exemplify ignorance and sometimes connote a suggestive air of “I am better than you, you don’t even know how to eat the decent way or understand simple English…” I get a lot of these… One time, when I was reading in an open mic in Los Angeles, a white lady—a former university professor at that--approached me (in two different occasions) and offered: “Why don’t you just let someone else who speaks the language better read your poems?” 
For me, that is gross insensitivity. Obviously, based on my accent (which isn’t really that bad, my friends say)—I am a foreigner. I was translating my (cultural) truths on a borrowed language. I wasn’t teaching English 101 or selling vacuum cleaners to an Orange County house… We need to know other people by being sensitive of/to the truths within and not just look at spoken language/nuance on a superficial way, or based our reaction only through our sociocultural standpoint. I don’t want and cannot speak with the same accent as people who were born, grew up and educated in the US. My accent is a product of what/who I am. When I recite my words, these are more human sounds, music—a juxtaposition of sounds, cultural sounds…
The lady ex-professor, she asked me (after I told her, I came from the Philippines, a former colony of the US and a country that is practically guided/governed by Washington’s foreign policy): “Do you speak English in the Philippines?” My response: “Why don’t you google it?”

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