Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Reading “Not Home but Here”

Editor : Luisa Igloria

Skimming through the titles on bookstore shelves, oftentimes give me the feeling of reading a newspaper: You just flip open the pages half-heartedly, over and over, to stop at some item that momentarily grabs your interest, and then, setting it aside for something else.
But this particularly hot morning of a Thursday inside Davao’s Gmall’s National Bookstore, something caught my eye.
It was this orange-covered book, “Not Home But Here,” a collection of writings from the Filipino Diaspora, edited by Fil-Am writer Luisa Igloria.
Let me describe how I found it. It was in the Filipiniana section, switched in between Eric Gamalinda’s Empire of Memory and Carlos Cortes’ Lassitude. I was walking aimlessly in between the bookstore aisle, still smarting with shock at having been frisked by the guard as I entered the mall, trying to understand the meaning of such experience, when something about the cover made me grab the slim volume from the shelf.
Ignoring the sharp look of the security guard, I posed briefly just to look at the cover art by Brenda Fajardo, and opened right into the page where Luisa Igloria wrote about the poet Reetika Vazirani whose poem “It’s Me, I’m Not Home,” inspired the book title.
I discovered in an instant that I could not just put that book down.
Vazirani, as Igloria puts it, was often described as “the writer to have lived in more places than the number of years she had lived on earth because of her obsessive theme about the trauma of living between worlds.”
Her poem, “It’s Me, I’m Not Home,” describes a persona reflecting on the disembodied nature of her own voice that sounds both here and not here at the same time, as it comes out of the answering machine.
The same disembodied feeling reflects the experience of Filipinos in diaspora.
I turned over the book--so slim, it covered only 143-pages--yet, it resonates with something deep inside. I skimmed swiftly over the blurbs and flipped open its Table of Contents page, where names like Nick Carbo, Eileen Tabios, Bino Realuyo, Loreta Medina and eleven others met my hungry eyes.
Now, I began to wonder how is it then, for someone who is desperately stuck here at home and had no intention of leaving, to identify closely with the writings from the diaspora?
Is the disembodied nature of the writers voices---diaspora conjures images of the scattering of seeds, of spores, the detachment from the original body, as Igloria pointed out---echoes the same disembodied voices of those who are left behind?
I thumbed through the pages and savored the beginning of Nick Carbo’s essay “Un Beau Livre,” feeling transported for a while to the seaside village of Mojacar in Andalusia, Spain, where Carbo spent his residency in Fundacion Valparaiso while reflecting on his experiences in the brown diaspora.
For some moments, I was with him as he walked out into the terraced garden to stand in the shade of a thousand-year-old olive tree, “to listen to the ancient secrets, whispered there by the wind.”
The tree was already there when Magellan sailed off for Moluccas only to end up in the group of islands he later called the Philippines.
After a while, I was tempted to pause to listen to the sounds around me.
All I hear were the rustles of paper inside the bookstore as other browsers scanned the pages of other books on the shelves, above the din of air conditioning and the muffled sounds of traffic outside.
Hundreds of years after Ruy Lopez de Villalobos had sailed around Mindanao, the cogon grasses and later, the acacias had given way to the mall and the bookstore, where I stood.
Yet, how likely it still is, that someone—a woman with child, perhaps—must have stood in this aisle to choose between buying this book or buying six kilos of rice? I thought as I come across Loreta Medina’s “Choosing the Sun: Notes from a Journal,” at the part where she was leisurely strolling the beach of Dhaka, finding hardly a Bangladeshi woman strolling there like her.
For, poverty at home represents the other face of the diaspora. In her essay, “What My Lola Taught Me,” Leny Mendoza-Strobel wrote how the notion of a hybrid, fluid identity, that Pico Iyer eloquently wrote about in “The Global Soul,” has little to do with the Filipino Diaspora.
Even as Iyer spoke of the global phenomenon where people live in various parts of the world without feeling of rootedness in a particular place, Mendoza-Strobel showed how the journeys of the Filipino overseas contract workers, mail-order brides could never fit into that category, driven as they are by ‘involuntary displacement.’
Thus, guiltily I devoured the rest of the essays, moving on to Bino Realuyo’s “Life at McDonalds (Life is not English),” on to Merlinda Bobis’ “Border Lover,” on to Eileen Tabios’ “Toasting Poetry as a Way of Life in the Diaspora,” and so forth.
The writing from the diaspora allows me to get a glimpse at the other side of my experience, to connect with that disembodied part of myself I almost wasn’t aware of until now.
It reminds me of a cousin who had left our remote little village to migrate to Switzerland, marrying a Swiss, and straddling all the barriers of race, class, sex and culture just to send money to her family.
Of how schools and universities sprout all over the place teeming with nurses and graduates that will soon fuel the diaspora. How the old colonizers are still very much around, changing the rules of the game.
After reading the book, I was still left with questions. What and where is home in the diaspora? Is the imagined homeland exists only in the mind?
I craned my neck to listen. I had this uneasy feeling that like Nick Carbo, I had to dig up more than 400 years of the country’s colonial past for answers.

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