By By tata ramon
My CIA Experience, Part 2
posted 16-Feb-2014  ·  
2,226 views  ·   0 comments  ·  

NOTE: This two-part series was published two years ago to chronicle my participation in the grand reunion of the Catanduanes International Association last April 27-29 in Las Vegas, Nevada.   Reprinting it, I believe, will lend insightful context to the reunion being held now here in the home province. I thank the editor of the Catanduanes Tribune for granting my request for this reprint. To the balikbayans, welcome back to the island of our affection! 

In the first part, I shared about my insights on the CIA as an association of Catandunganons abroad that aims to re-enact home away from home. I said that most of these expats had come to consider their host countries, e.g. U.S. and Canada, home. The CIA is not exactly an exercise in nostalgia, not an aching effort to bring back their good old days in the island. Their days in the country of exile are arguably better, and they have embraced wholeheartedly the strange land as their very own.  How they carried the three-day reunion points to this realization. It was a celebration of their American-ness, as it was of their being Catandunganons.

            Exile to the U.S. is pretty much the same with exile to any other place, such as Manila. I take from my own experience. I have stayed mostly in Manila for more than half my life now. I have come to embrace it as my own. I consider myself as a “Manila boy.” I feel regular longing for the province, and indeed see to it to satisfy such longing. Seeing Virac from Taguntong, or from the air, makes my heart palpitate with excitement. But a few days into my stay, I start getting impatient because I am at a loss on how to spend my hours, which in many cases, I simply while away sleeping. I seem to have lost the competence to live a regular life in my own place. There had been a reversal: my place of exile had become home and my birthplace had become the break away from home.

            The migrant then is somebody in an unusual situation: he straddles between two homes. So whatsort of species has the migrant become? And what now of a migrant’s essential self?  There is the notion that one’ original culture becomes the foundation, the core of one’s being and any other addition merely overlays on this, like a coat of paint, an icing. Personally, I don’t buy this idea. So far as I have seen, the two (or more) cultures that a migrant deals with get intertwined in complex ways in one’s self, from the core to the surface. A second way of life does not remain superficial: it can get well into the bottom of one’s personality. Given enough time, it can create basic changes in the structure of the self.

            Having observed and interacted with mga ka-probinsiya during my month’s stay in the US, I have come to realize that indeed these compatriots have become a new category: Cat-Ams (Catandunganon Americans). Operationally, they are Americans who have Catandunganon roots. What defines them is the fact that they live the American way of life and the Catandunganon in them is a given complication. The last thing I tell them is, “Ay baging di ka sana daw nagriwat,” because I would be telling a lie. They were not the same people I knew back home. They have changed not just in appearances but inmore fundamental sense, in the ways they see the world and do things.

To start with, I argue that a person’s pagkatao is shaped largely by the kind of society he/she moves in. If so, granting that the American society is so drastically different from our Catanduanes, it would mean that it will produce persons quite drastically different from the typical Catandunganon. A Catandunganon then that stays long enough in the US will in the long term shed off his/her usual self and become somebody else. As an illustration, I will focus on the economic aspect. While American and Catandunganon societies differ in most respects, the economic condition is dominantly determinant, something that shapes almost everything else. In terms of the individual, one’s economic circumstances then go a long way in shaping his/her personality.

The American economy is premised on abundance. America is a big country and you take this not only in geographical terms. Everything there is on the big scale. Burgers nabagingmgaplato, soft drinks served in a glassnabagingkapitera, and they call it “regular size.”  The fridge in American homes has double doors, bagingaparador, and they are replicas of the super grocery: loaded with food stuff in quantities that do not seem to match the number of people going about to buy. You wonder: ay sisayangmaga-parakaraonkaini? And so it is at my sister Becky’s house in Las Vegas and at Dave Templonuevo’s place in Witchita, Kansan where I was a guest for four days.  In theory, I know this because you read about it. But seeing it in reality, I can’t help it, naiskandaloako. Over a sumptuous meal, Dave would tell me, Kaonsana Mon ta daina man ningmakaonkaan. Of course you have your limits, so it means that some halfof the food served goes to the trash bin. I tell Dave: pag-paroknganiningorig ta sayang man susagmaw. Dave then makes a hearty laugh of it, and says that if he does that, the neighbourhood will send him out of the place.  At Becky’s place, they have to regularly rid the fridge of unconsumed items that all go to the trash bin.  She just tells me that these things cannot stay in there forever. And then they shop again for a next batch.

Aside from food, many other things that people buy are destined to be rid of, if not soon, a little bit soon. American society operates on the logic of consumption, and by extension on throwing away things. Ay marasangdaigaka-kilimay?Dave explains that throwing away otherwise still useful objects is not a “sin” in the US; in fact, the opposite which is keeping oneself from frenzy consumption is being “selfish”, a lack for a sense of responsibility towards others. What? Because, Dave explains further, somebody somewhere losses a job when you inhibit yourself from buying. And that starts the downward spiral, the undoing of the economy. When people lose jobs, they don’t have money to buy things, and how would the companies make money to pay the employees if their products don’t sell? That is classic Keynesian economics taught in college. It is something I have long known as an academic, but it is something else to see it operate on the close-up view, especially to the extent that the Americans had carried it. To one like me from a poor country, the extravagance is simply scandalous. It has stuck on me the age-old admonition that if you do not finish your meal, makilikotangguramoy mo. What do you make of a society where being waldasis rewarded and thrift is penalized?

Now, going back to my original point. Our Catandunganon migrants to the US, having trained themselves to thrive on the logic of abundance and frenzy consumption, will have to embrace a whole lot of related notions, values and practices that impact on their being. First, they have to change their work ethics. They have to really work hard like carabaos, like taking more than two jobs just in order to make enough to cater to the demands of the new lifestyle. Second, they must rely solely on merit and talents to get established and move forward. Social connections and the padrino system that are a must back home are absent. Third, they must be keen on a different sort of politics where they vote based on platforms than on personalities (no vote-buying there, sorry) because change in government policies affect their lives in actual and real ways. So unlike in the Philippines where politicians arepare-pareholangsila, the only difference really is on how much they can give you.In Catandunganon setting, somebody with all these qualities, plus the predisposition to fantabulous consumption, would appear as coming from another planet.

One far-reaching effect of the logic of abundance on the Americans is the increased taste for comfort and privilege, things which in their mindhad become necessities. Result is that they have such low tolerance for hardship and depravity. They had acquired an inflated sense of “rights.” With the Cat-Ams becoming such, they lose the competence to live regular lives in Catandunganon setting.  Riding through rough road to the beach is an exciting “adventure”, but doing it every day to work? No way. Eating tuyoor balawis quaint,masilamwhile making babadin the cool waters of Marinawa. But having it as regular fare? No, thanks.The thing is,living a life back in the province on a permanent basis would be a nightmare for our Cat-Ams. For them, life in the Philippines is simply a horrifying proposition. Back in 1996 during my first trip to the US, the Filipinos I’ve met there were completely puzzled because I was going back.  Before I took my trip back last May 22, my sister Becky and her ICU unit in the hospital she was working in was giving a despedidato a Filipino co-worker who decided to relocate back to the Philippines after some ten years in the states. Why, they could not figure out and they would not buy the idea that she wanted her four children to grow up in Philippine setting. At the last minute, they were trying to dissuade her. I told my sister, hey, not everybody wants to live here in the states.  Your co-worker has her reasons.

I am not taking sides as to which between the American and Catandunganon way of life is better. I say that both are simply varied options for survival,are different menus for the pursuit of happiness and meaning in life. You choose and merely develop the distinct set of competencies necessary for thriving in respective settings. Some have more options, other quite limited ones, but in the final analysis, ways of life are on equal footing. The human species is amazing at how they can survive and find happiness in a wide variety of circumstances. Sabinga, sanayanlangyan.

But it is no joke to gain kasanayanin another way of life, especially in something as drastically different as between Catanduanes and the US. Going through such shift is such a tedious and painful process. Recounting his ordeal in the prairie environs of Kansas, Dave was tearful. He had been there for some five years and he tells that ngonian pa sanaakomedyonaka-establish. Others I’ve talked to, perhaps not as dramatic as Dave (this friend of mine takes everything with intensity), shared of same stories of heroic efforts to belong. Think of developing a phobia for the telephone, or having to be told to speak in English (poh-leeeez?) even while you have already dispatched your entire arsenal of English vocabulary. Think of having to deal with extreme weather conditions (ay parusapalaangwinter!). Think of learning how to deal with maps and imagining a place in terms of east, west, north and south rather than making nguso-nguso? I am amazed at how my sister has acquired the sort of American sense of humour where a remark such as “Oh?” becomes hilariously funny. You have to relearn everything, even those that makes you laugh.

            In short, we can only admire these Cat-Ams for having to face untold ordeals just so they can pursue the American Dream. I don’t mind at all that they had become Americans. It is enough that they acknowledge their roots as Catandunganons, actively maintain connections with home-province, continue to embrace it in their strivings, such as supporting families back home, and through worthy causes such as the medical mission. I don’t mind when they squeak with amusement if I tell them that I prefer my egg iskrambol(my sister Becky: “Hey George, SCRAAM-beld, anoka?”). It is enough to realize that they remember the home-province of our affections with the memory of the heart. 

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