I'll get us started in true Pinoy fashion with a song. The EraserHeads' hipster cover of a Hotdog classic, "Manila." Given the popularity of canned meats in the 'pinas, especially WWII-era mess like SPAM and Vienna Sausages (mmmmm all that nitrate goodness!), I always found it totally appropriate that one of the Philippines' most definitive and best selling pop bands of all time is actually named "Hotdog."
As the song says, I'm goin' back to Manila. Or rather I just went back for my first balikbayan journey as a grown-up without parental chaperones. Balikbayan translates literally to "return to country" in English, but refers in a more spiritual and colloquial sense to the Pinoys and Pinays living permanently abroad who return to the country, and who implicitly always have a country to return to. The official def, according to the Philippine National Statistical Coordination Board (for immigration purposes) is "those of Filipino Descent who acquired foreign citizenship and permanent status abroad." This was my first time back since I was 10-yrs. old, circa 1983, and since I acquired my US citizenship and passport in 1989, when I was 16.
Needless to say this was all a very big deal for me, my beloved Kangagi who accompanied me, and my fam waiting anxiously in the I.E., concerned that my So. Cal accented Tagalog would somehow lead to cultural alienation in forms both benign and fantastically violent. It's the kind of stuff that inspires memoirs and fictionalizations of fuzzy disaporic feelings and deep psychic drama.
Beyond the flipside (so to speak) I've also imagined that this could be the moment that all the bullshit stuff played out in academe about racial authenticity would finally get to my head, and that my "failure" as a brown subject in the US would be affirmed by the threat and promise of the "cultural alienation" feared by my own kinsfolk (primed as they are by the paranoia-inducing local news).
As if things weren't heavy enough, this was also the kind of sitch more often than not aggravated by white scholars who (consciously and un) like to to see brown folks inhabiting their "real" exotic selves, while waiting with baited breath to bestow ethical judgments upon those who might fail to fit the bill of "a real person of color"--whatever that might mean. In collusion with cultural nationalists in the academy of the most self-serving stripe, these culture vultures (very literally) just can't wait to call you out for a coconut: brown on the outside, white on the inside. And there's nothin' like a balikbayan journey and its potential pitfalls to tickle the imperialist impulse of folks who like to collect color, and purport to know you and "your people" better than you do.
But back to Hotdogs.
Play it again (this time, the original):
Fact of the matter is, despite all the twisted emotional stuff I freehanded for you up above, the experience of going back to Manila after "walking the streets of San Francisco," and trying all the "rides at Disneyland" as a post-diasporic So. Cal suburbanite, proved to be way easier (and for being so easy, way more complicated) than I or anyone else ever expected. Like the song "Manila" in all of its incarnations--the scratchy, beat-laden, remixed cover of a tinny original that itself covers the musical idioms of the jauntier Billy Joel songbook, crossed with Latin horn shouts, and the Americana Dixieland of Disney's Carnation Plaza, which is in turn culled from the French quadrilles, blues and bluegrass of Cajun, Creole, BlaLatino New Orleans--my balikbayan journey was "quesorap," a punny ad I saw at the Budget Mart convenience shop in Iloilo. And we all know how much Pinoys love puns.
Queso (Spanish for cheese) smushed together with sarap (Tagalog for "tasty"), combines for the English equivalent of "cheesetastic," while adding the post-colonial, Spagalog layer of meaning with "Que sarap" ("very sarap," or very tasty).
I'm gonna spare y'all a more complicated explanation for, and explication of, all these sensations and insist for now that we keep it simple. That we keep the cultural affirmation I experienced for my love of soft rock and fried foods in the Pilipinas as simple and profound as it really was and is. As simply profound as the pop architectonics of the song that asks we be brought back again and again to the place I've never stopped knowing in my soul and stomach, despite having been "gone too long..."
Stay tuned for Part II, the not-so metanarrative that promises to be picture heavy. But before then, another take on "Manila" from the pop It-Girl, Ms. Right Now, Sarah Geronimo:
Rollin' deep in the heart of the I.E. through the gnarled concrete arteries of 60+10+91 east to neon sunsets and Naugles, Taco Tia, the Mad/Friendly/Happy or Lucky Greek,The Menagerie, Spanky's, Butch's Grinders, The Denny's Cocktail Lounge at Hardman Center (in pace requiescat). We spell Paris P-E-R-R-I-S, bitches!