Cultural Identity

Almost three years ago, I had an amazing opportunity to travel to the Philippines and spend 10 weeks there to work at a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) as part of my grad program.  Tonight, I had the opportunity to meet the next batch of folks who have been blessed with the same opportunity.  I was asked to talk about historical trauma and internalized oppression and the relationship with Filipino psyche.  I was all geared up to share my understanding on the latter concepts.  I was happier to know that there was greater interest in who I am and how the experience changed me.

It has been a while since I have thought about my trip and as I did, I was brought back to my thoughts and feelings during that time.  I can clearly remember the days leading up to the trip.  I went to LA to visit my family and work for a bit before leaving for the Philippines.  I remember calling one of my best friends from the airport in tears because I was so scared to go.  This was one of the clarifying moments in which I knew how important this trip was going to be for me.  During the trip, there was a lot of self reflection, varying emotions – sometimes simultaneously.  It was rough.  It was what I needed.

Tonight, the facilitator asked me about my journey with my cultural identity as she knew my story beforehand.  She knew that although I went on this trip for school credit, my gain was not only my academic growth.  I grew as person.  My answer to the group about my cultural identity was this:  I am Filipino through my spirit.  As I have had more time to think about this, a more accurate response is:  I am Filipino through my indigenous spirit.  I, along with many other Filipinos have struggled with defining the concept of being Filipino.  I have loved it, hated it, ignored it and loved it again.  With all that I know and all that I have been, this to date is the best answer that I can provide.  I do not represent  the common ideal of what is “beautiful” among Filipinos.  I (happily) do not have European features.  I do not want to whiten my skin and in fact, love my brown skin.  I am happy with my nose.  I love that I have a strong, muscular build.  I am not less Filipino because I cannot fluently communicate in a Filipino language and I am not more Filipino because I can understand 2 different Filipino languages.  Eating Filipino food does not make me Filipino the same way eating Mexican food does not make me Mexican.  All these “identifiers” are superficial.  Cultural identity is much deeper than that.  It’s understanding ancestry and ancestral knowledge AND accepting this to be true.  It’s about respecting other people’s indigenous culture.   It’s about seeking and receiving wisdom from those before you.  It’s not about regurgitating shit you read.  If you have experienced healing by reconnecting with your indigenous culture, I believe it is safe to say, that your identity is already within your spirit.

I was set to regurgitate earlier this evening.  I am glad things did not work out as planned.  Instead, I tuned into me and shared my wisdom.  Perhaps this was the divine plan all along…

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Discarding.

Changing.  Expanding.  Discarding.  Allowing.  Loving.  Manifesting.  Knowing.  Feeling.

All of this is simultaneously occurring and I am feeling a little, well, confused.  I welcome the confusion because it is the state before change.  Remnants of what was my old self still echo in the depths of my mind and on some days, that is all I hear.  I have to remind myself to love myself and be accepting of the fact that that is all a part of the process.  It is also a tell tale sign of how much more work I need to do to move towards the change that I desire.  I am working towards divorcing oppressive, traditional constructs to allow me to be more receptive to a broader array of information.  This will allow me to make more informed decisions.

I am currently working on discarding.  I began this process a little while ago by getting rid of possessions that no longer serve me.  I started with my closet.  I donated bags of clothes as I had more than I needed.  My body has changed as I have discarded some weight so I am happily adjusting to that change.  I don’t have the need to hide behind my clothes anymore and I am feeling more comfortable in my skin.  I feel more “me”.

Next I will discard the thoughts that are preventing me from living in the moment and thus preventing me from appreciating what surrounds me.  I live in an amazing place and I am surrounded by amazing people.  The act of discarding is very powerful, cleansing and healing.  This is not an easy task by any means.  Some days it is effortless and on other days I am battling myself to the point of exhaustion.  I know that it is okay to feel negative emotions as long as I don’t stay stuck on them.  They are necessary as they serve as a gauge for one’s self awareness.  They are a signal to change your thoughts or your situation.  I am done with the clutter and I only want to be in the midst of all that is nourishing to my mind, body and soul.  Discarding makes space for growth.

I am doing this to take care of me.

timing.

I have been away because I have not been well. I have forgotten that writing is very cathartic for me and I am finally at a place where I can be open about where I am at. When I started this blog, I vowed to be as open and raw as possible which I will continue doing. To do so does not require “blow by blow” details to convey my thoughts and feelings. There are particulars to matters that I have not fully divulged and I was still able to stir reactions from those who have taken the time to read this. I believe in the power of my words which is why I am very careful with them. I am thoughtful in what I say because they transmit feeling…my feeling(s) which is/ (are) very powerful. I feel things on levels that are magnified so sometimes, to the ordinary person, I am misunderstood. I am good with that. I have no desire to convince people to listen to me. If my thoughts resonate with you, you will hear them. If not now, then you will hear them when it is time for you to.

In the most recent months, I have had difficulty with making adjustments in my life, most specifically with filtering my self defeating thoughts while trying to integrate my intuitions and emotions. This brought me to a place where I needed to seek professional help because it was too much for me to handle on my own. I needed help with sorting my thoughts, feelings and emotions so I can better understand each. I was overwhelmed and stuck. This work is painstaking. Some days I am okay and some days I am a complete mess. Some days I am numb and some days I am feeling everything under the sun. My tactic is to allow myself to feel everything in the moment, no matter how scary or painful it is. These feelings will not change until I acknowledge them and accept them and then if need be, release them. This deep introspection has called my being into question which is good. Being able to know myself and have full awareness of who I am is part of the process. Without this, I will have no direction on where to go.

I have been spending at least one day a week at a beach so I may have the opportunity to collect myself and actively discard the thoughts that are impeding on my journey. Recently, I have been creating earrings and pendants to help quell my mind. On Friday, I started looking for shells and coral along the shore so I can incorporate them in my art. I sat in the shallows of the ocean digging up sand and allowing the water to wash away whatever it may hoping that the treasures that I was seeking would be left behind. I did this repeatedly until my fingers wrinkled. After all that effort, I didn’t have anything that I could use.

I was at the beach again yesterday and this time, I was even more determined to bring stuff home. While I was walking to find a place to sit, there in plain sight were the tiniest of shells and fragments of coral. I did not have to do anything but be there at the right place and right time. Instantaneously I made a connection to where I am at in my journey. At first I was concentrating on delving within and scrounging around in the crevices of my mind. It was very frustrating as I thought the harder I work, the more likely it is for me to find these “answers” or “realizations”. The realization is, I have been trying too hard. Perhaps what I need to know has been in front of me all along. Effort is only a small fraction of the process.

With that said, awareness and timing are the other components of knowing. For many of us, we may fear what we are aware of and that is okay. We will know what to do with whatever we are afraid of when the time is right. Fear is a powerful animal. It is oppressive. It does not discriminate. It is destructive.

Am I afraid of shit? Fuck yeah. This world is nuts. It is my responsibility to know myself so I know whether I am reacting to my own fear or the fear I feel from others. Fear will not be my guiding light. I refuse it.

the universe.

i’m alive and the universe has made this all possible.

 

i have been struggling since i graduated school.  every time i was in need, i was blessed with someone or something that has made my survival possible.  i hold nothing but gratitude and gratefulness for those whose life paths have crossed with mine, no matter how brief that time may have been.  there are also connections and relationships that have grown with me through out the years that continue to move in the same trajectory.  i cannot imagine where i would be if i didn’t have their guidance.

 

today, i heard from two very important people that i haven’t heard from in a very long time.  the universe knew that i needed to hear them today.  this served to reaffirm my belief that the energy i put out there attracts what i need.  right now, i have what i need.

 

i am where i am supposed to be right now with the people i am supposed to be with.  by virtue of time, things will change because people will change.  that is the way it is supposed to be.  growth requires change – the more uncomfortable it is, the more profound it will be.  There is a lesson in everything.  EVERYTHING.

 

listen to the universe.

 

 

 

 

 

 

you.

Dear Little Girl,

You don’t know me yet but one day you will.

You have been born into a world that you will spend a lot of energy trying to figure out. You will grow to be a very deep thinker. Consequently, you will also feel very deeply too. This will not make sense now and that is okay. Things will occur to you when you are ready to understand them.

You will be experiencing some very difficult circumstances, situations and events. Soon, your dad will hit you for the first time and you will cry until you cannot breathe. You will feel fear and pain for the first time. This event will be so traumatic that you will never forget the color of the towel that you were hit with and the meal of chicken adobo and rice that you will eat for dinner that night. You will also never forget that no one stopped him.

You will love hanging out with your cousins because you will look up to them and admire them for all the stuff that you don’t have. Then one day, the bullying and exclusion will start and you will be made to do things that you don’t understand and don’t want to do. You will tell your dad that you don’t want to spend your summers there anymore and when you tell him why, he will not believe you. You will be forced to spend several more summers with them but this time they are angry because you told on them and the bullying gets worse and worse. You will be alone and you will have no choice but to suffer in silence. Even through this, you will continually try to “fit in” but you never will because you are different.

You will grow into an extremely angry teenager and your parents will think that you are crazy.  There will be constant yelling matches and you will kick and punch holes in your bedroom walls.  Your adolescent growing pains will be magnified because of your childhood experiences. When you are 13, your dad will kick your ass for the last time and you will stop talking to him for about 3 years. You will be lost and confused. You will feel extra ugly and extra rejected. You will become depressed. You will find power in restricting what you eat. You will have momentary feelings of happiness when you step on the scale and see another 3 lbs gone only to be immediately replaced by disappointment that you did not lose more. Even at your lowest weight, it was never low enough.  This will go on between your freshman and junior years in high school.

You will be a master at hiding all your hurt and as a result, you will have difficulty with relationships. By this time though, you have had already met the person who will be the best friend for the rest of your life. You will become a part of her family and be the godmother to her oldest child. You two will get into a lot of trouble together but you will have a lot of fun.

Several years down the road, you will start trying to figure out who you are and you will start to question why these things happened to you. You will struggle with self worth, self esteem, self confidence and a host of other issues including your identity.  Your life will change after you get help and it will be the most scariest and painful process of your early 20’s. This is when your healing begins.

I know that this all sounds awful. You will have more great experiences than not and you will be surrounded by a lot of people who love you and care for you. You will never be alone.

When you hit your 30’s, you will be in a place that you would have never imagined you would be. You will be in the process of reconnecting with your culture that you worked so hard to push away and in return, you start to learn and understand yourself on a deeper level. You will start to understand how resilient you truly are and how empowering this knowledge is to you. You are going to set out to make a difference in a lot of people’s lives and you are going to do so with the purest of intentions.

Self discovery is a lifelong process and you will welcome it with open arms. You will thrive on learning and look forward to acquiring as much knowledge as possible…just like your Lolo.

I know you don’t know me yet but you have to just trust me. Everything is going to be all right…

Love,

youf51359800

a letter to bruhilda.

dear ass fuck,

you are a bitch ass cunt bag.  you made my life a living hell and there were times that i lost it because i actually felt like i was crazy.  despite this, i was able to maintain enough composure to fake the funk and get through the day.  now that i am in a position to look back at the experience, i can’t help but to believe that you are one miserable piece of shit.  i suspect that you are powerless in your own life and therefore felt the need to exploit the fuck out of me.  you are probably the biggest bully i have ever known and instead of using your power and influence to do good, you use it to benefit off of others like a fucking parasite.  it worked for a little while for you sucked the life out of me and made me question my capabilities while i completed your authoritarian directives to fetch shit.  i was bitter and salty for quite a while.

i am walking away from this experience with a hell of a lot more self control for there were times that i wanted to cuss you the fuck out.  there were even  more times that i just wanted to straight up leave but i had no choice but to stay and tolerate the ugliness that emanates from you.  actually, you are so awful that the ugliness was probably actually trying to escape you to find salvation with the devil.

i am also walking away from this experience knowing that i am not the only one that feels this way about you.  i don’t think you are dense because you must have some sort of intelligence to pull this off for as long as you have.  maybe you just don’t give a shit.  i would actually respect you more if you were unaware because at least that way, there is still an argument that you are not on asshole on purpose.

despite your assumptions, i have built so many GENUINE relationships and connections with people you only think you have relationships and connections with.  the sad truth is, you have destroyed a lot more than you have built.  what a shame.

i do not wish you any ill will because i believe you don’t need it.  you have plenty of that on your own.  i seldom use adages but this one seems very fitting:

“you will reap what you sow”

good riddance,

anakbegood

the power of kuwento.

I really should do better about jotting stuff down as they pop into my head.  I get the most craziest ideas at the most inopportune times and by the time I’m ready to sit and type stuff up, I can’t remember them anymore.  Yesterday, I had an idea of what I may want to focus a dissertation on in the event I want to pursue a PhD.  I thought it was brilliant and I got all excited about it.  Then I got distracted and now I can’t remember what it was exactly.  I’m sure it’ll come back to me and it’ll probably happen again at another inopportune time.  I know I want to look into colonial mentality, cultural identity, mental health and indigenous/cultural healing.  I still need to do some heavy literature review before I can even begin to hone in on a focus.  This is all in a premature stage right now which means that this may all change.

Yesterday, I worked on an assignment about trauma and Indigenous Healing.  Naturally, I looked into Filipino Indigenous Healing as it is the journey that I am still on.  My instructor showed us a documentary, Carved from the Heart, the day that she assigned this to us.  She said that she has seen it over 6 times and she still cries every time that she sees it.  I cried and so did many people in the class.  I literally felt heartache in response to the stories of cultural loss and the maladaptive behaviors that ensued to cope.  It was painfully moving and painfully identifiable.

For those who have been keeping tabs on my blogs, it is no secret that I am in search of my own cultural identity while trying to understand what this means to me.  I have been trying to connect with my parents on a deeper level but I feel like I keep hitting this wall.  The problem is, I don’t know who this wall is meant to protect.  My parents are very different from each other and in all honesty, I don’t know how they have managed to live together for this long.  My childhood was a little nuts and judging from what I know now, quite unhealthy.  I am grateful though that each parent and I have finally reached a place where there is a relationship.  This was something that I did not have until only a handful of years ago.

I talked to my dad yesterday and he told me that after visiting me here for graduation, he was going to go to the Philippines for probably three months to handle some business.  I expressed to him that I was worried about him being there for that long.  He will be turning 72 this year.  He is a survivor of a quadruple heart bypass and is on a regimen of meds to basically keep him alive.  I was actually more concerned about his safety because he is in the midst of a land battle with a company who was illegally sold the property.  My brother in law has been dealing with his own similar case and one of his attorneys was “coincidentally” found dead.  My dad is still a G though talking about “anak, ip I want a can buy a gun with a license to carry.  It is por selp depense”.  Yup.  That is my pops.  Still down with his shit.  I told him that I want him to tell me all his crazy stories of when he was growing up because until now, he has never ever talked about his childhood or his life for that matter.  The plan is if and when all this land stuff works out in my dad’s favor, he will take me and my youngest sister to the Philippines so we can finally get our learn on.

As a kid, I knew that it was one of those unspoken rules that I was never to ask my dad about his life, especially events that took place before my sisters and I were born.  The same with my mom.  I don’t know how my parents met or when they met.  I don’t know the name of any of the schools they attended or what their hopes and aspirations were when they were younger.  I am not even sure how much college each were able to complete.  This begs to question how much do I really know my parents?  Sad to say, I don’t feel like I really do.

I felt like I needed to get a perspective of what “wellness” means from a Filipino perspective so I decided to call my auntie.  She is a breast cancer survivor and has been in remission for about five years now.  I did not have a relationship with her during the time she was diagnosed and did not have one with her from the time I was in middle school or so.  I shut her out because of some family drama.  It was not until 2008 that we pulled together as a family when my Lolo was sick.  When my Lolo died later that week, it is as if he took my ill feelings towards my auntie with him.

My auntie and I were on the phone for over 2 hours.  She did most of the talking while I listened.  She shared with me her stories of perseverance as a college student and her determination to do what was right for her even though she knew that it would anger her mother.  She illustrated what I believe to be the Filipino spirit and the belief that all things can be accomplished through inventiveness and hard work.  My auntie was so focused on reaching her goal that she did not realize that she had enough credits to graduate until the dean called her in his office to ask her why she registered for classes for the next term.  After college, she continued with “odd jobs” and was thrilled when she received a job offer, even though it was outside of her field.  Shortly thereafter, she landed a substitute teacher job and within weeks was appointed the guidance counselor position which until this day, she attributes as one of the most important jobs that she has ever had.  She did all of this by taking chances and reaching out for help.  She used the skills that she had from home and found herself work as a labandera by asking the students in the dorms who were studying nursing because she knew that they had money.  My auntie loves to talk.  I love to listen.

I thought I was going to hear about what she found to be therapeutic during her battle with cancer.  I thought she was going to make reference to Filipino Indigenous Healing but instead what helped move her towards wellness was prayer and her firm belief in God.  Instead, I was the one who found therapeutic value because the conversation left me feeling connected to her.  I know this because I was brought to tears several times.  When people share stories with one another, there is more said than the words that are being spoken.  This is the power of kuwento.