Interlude #6 - Introductions


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            Hello everyone! Kumusta ka! Welcome to today’s episode, and it’s going to be a bit of a mix… type episode. Much like me. And that was unintentional.

            Basically, I want to do episodes profiling famous Filipinos. Kind of like I did with Jose Rizal, but I hope to do many of them. It seemed like a good idea as any to start a more informal series on them now. But when I did start it or start thinking about it, I had this weird moment when I flashed back to my childhood, back to the very first time I attempted something like this. Back to the time I found that first famous Filipina to look up to.

            And I started to wonder if that would make for a good story. (Pause) Probably not, but I’m going to tell it anyway.

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            If you don’t want to think too far back or are just jumping into this podcast, I’ll go ahead and put in the relevant details of other stories that you’ll need to make sense of this one right here. Specifically, that I was raised in a predominantly white community, and attended a very predominantly white elementary school. To the point that I did not see another non-white student until I was in the fourth grade. And then two brothers transferred to our school, but they weren’t Filipinos. Their grandparents were in India. And as for their parents, they had initially moved to California and then found their way to Arizona like so many people were doing at the time.

            And this probably makes sense just not in a way that I can explain, but their sudden appearance made me feel even more like the odd one out. I mean, they were brothers. They always going to have someone who shared in this aspect of their identity. And I was in an only child who didn’t have that.

            It wasn’t like I didn’t know my story. I knew where my mother had come from, the many misadventures that had led her to marrying my father, and why it was that everyone else in her family were so far away from us. And that’s all well and good, but it didn’t help other things. It didn’t help me feel any less adrift or more grounded in a larger story—in a narrative that transcends me and is, therefore, something I could always cling to in times of trouble.

            It didn’t help that my mother had a very pragmatic attitude to her heritage. She was never that sentimental of a person about things that weren’t explicitly her family. And to her, that culture was a part of the world her family lived in but not a part of them. And if you’re expecting anything more profound about that, I think you’re mistaken. Sure, it sucked that this was my life, specifically that there was a cultural language I inherited that was not being passed onto me, but also, part of the problem was that my father was sick. And soon to be dying. Then dead.

            But we aren’t there yet.

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            This particular story starts when I was finishing up elementary school. And it’s also based on one of those things that I think only happened at my school. I don’t know. But I’m sure we all have those things from our school days that we were ready to swear were completely normal and par for the course only to find out years later that the opposite is true, and we just had a weird moment-slash-upbringing-slash-school. And it never comes out in a meaningful way, does it? It’s always during some offhand comment or some joke, and the jovial nature of the moment is then left to come crashing down around us, making it awkward.

            Or that’s what it feels like. I mean, it certainly doesn’t ever have to be that way. You could just not be dramatic about it.

            But when I was in my elementary school, there was this big event the oldest grade held called “Meet the Experts.” Or that’s what I remember it being called. This was a long time ago, so there’s going to be some room for error on this one. Also that was a review game we played in middle school.  I know for sure it went by that, so really, this could be some sort of mental spillage, but I know we did something like this. It’s the name that eludes me. This event is just so burned into my memory.

            I know the older kids would each pick one topic to heavily research and create a large display on: a display that had to be big enough to essentially take over the rearranged desks with anything larger spilling out into the wider-than-average school hallway. They’d have to sit at these displays and give a brief summary talk on their subject as people came by. The students were the titular “expert” in this situation, however poorly advised that word choice was. It wasn’t meant to mean anything. None of it was. Or at least, I wonder how much of anything in that project was meant to mean anything. Sure, we learned how to more effectively research things, but that was it. Although, to be fair, those research skills have really stuck with me.

            It was a harder to define beast back then, though. This project. And that’s saying a lot considering the effect time has on memories. It was just a thing we did. A thing we happily did. It marked the end of that final year of schooling. Well, not final. Final at that school, which to us was the entire world. When you were in the younger grades, you’d tour the displays, gaze in astonishment at the various posters that likely were not made solely by the student but pulling back on that shade a bit.

            When you were younger, you thought the older kids had all the answers on this specific topic. And you were amazed that such a thing was possible by a kid a few years old than you. And when it was your turn to make the display, the goal was always to be over the top. It’s partially because of these tours. Every student wanted to be the person with the best display, the display that all the little kids crowded around. You wanted to be the one they remembered and talked about endlessly for weeks. Because that’s what you did when you were younger. You didn’t really remember learning anything from the older kids about any of the various topics you saw posters of, but you remember the spectacle. The theatrics, in some case. Candy in others.

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            Now there were a few rules beyond the obvious “Don’t commit academic dishonesty.” And one of them was that there couldn’t be any repeated topics in the same classroom. The grade was composed of six different classes, so it really wasn’t possible to make the rule no duplicates full stop, so the school had to do the best they could, and this was the compromise.

            That part is relevant. Very much so. Perhaps too much so. Because it meant I didn’t know what to make my presentation on.

            My first thought was to talk about my hobbies. I did karate after school, and I was in the school’s band class. But there were a lot of people in band, specifically on my instrument, and there was one other kid who did taekwondo, and that was kind of his whole thing. Like in the absence of a personality, he was the kid who did taekwondo. So I felt kind of bad about taking that from him, even if that wasn’t what I was actually doing and even if this was only for a moment.

            And I don’t know… The rest kind of just happened. I mean, I was the only Filipino at the school. I’d never seen a display done on that topic before and there would be no competition. So I asked the teacher if I could have the very broad topic of the Philippines, and he agreed.

            Yeah… my character might not be great, but at least it’s consistent. I always bit off more than I can chew. The advice you’ll probably get if you want to start a podcast or if you were to undergo this project is to start by considering the broad topic you want to discuss and then narrow in so tightly that you’re talking about the style of rivets on a particularly robot in an obscure sci-fi movie from the eighties.

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            Or not. That is a bit of an extreme example, but it’s not completely inaccurate. So there’s that. I mean, what problem does this podcast keep running into? That I can do anything, so I don’t know what to do, how or when, admittedly.

            But this was our project, so we actually didn’t even get that advice. The teachers let you pick a word, and you got to run with it. In the end, I got a big poster board and sectioned it off for topics such as geography, history, culture, and the arts. No, I don’t know why culture and the arts were different topics, but it becomes relevant later, so just bear with me. Also, I was like eleven. I included a map, a picture of the flag, a picture of a jeepney and several of the various landscapes and tourist attractions across the over seven thousand islands. Mom helped less than some of the other mothers did, but she did let me borrow some of the wedding gifts her dad had given her for the display. They weren’t exceedingly valuable things, and she wasn’t sentimental, so it was fine, I guess. If I lost them, it wouldn’t be a big deal, but I was a responsible kid.

            That need to explain myself, of course, is from the sheer beauty of these otherwise common household objects.

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            There was a bottle opener in particular has stuck with me. Eh, quite literally. I wanted to bring it with me when I moved out of her house, and my mom agreed. She didn’t really care. I guess as long as I wanted using the bottle opener to drink excessively she was fine. Which I don’t. I really just keep it to have it. The handle is beautiful and expertly carved with scenes of people harvesting from tall trees. And even with that engraving, it still fits perfectly in your hand.

            Now, it wasn’t the sort of thing that would give me the social validation I had been seeking. Neither were the jewelry box or the hand fan that I also brought with me. The Barbie doll that I had gotten from the Philippines… Kind of, sort of. But I ended up not bringing it because I didn’t want anything to happen to her. But all of these objects did spark something within me. Once again, it’s hard to explain, but this was the first time I’d ever really seen this other place in that light. A more physical light.

            But this time, it would have been a few years since my mom and I made our last trip. For my grandfather’s funeral, of all things. So it wasn’t that the Philippines was a distant memory. Only that it was just a place about my family. Nothing more. Maybe even nothing to do with me.

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            The actual project wasn’t quite a disaster, but it could have been. When I was working, I started strong and sort of fizzled out. I mean, yeah, it happens. It’s just that the enthusiasm was the biggest motivator and then that gave way to boredom and then… yeah… This project wasn’t a major part of our grade, oddly enough, and even at that age, I had the mental capacity to understand that I’d given myself plenty of padding so that if I didn’t do amazingly, I’d still have an A overall.

            When added to the ill-advised, super broad scope I had taken I had to keep things general. There were some facts thrown into the mix, but it wasn’t anything I’d consider substantive. Certainly not anything I can remember beyond the number of islands that made up the country, which I think was more about the shock and disbelief my best friend had when she heard the number. There’s probably something significant in that, right? That the only thing I could cling to was something that was filtered through another person, essentially.

            But there is one other thing. Or another person.

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            You see, there was one aspect of the culture that I did feel somewhat connected to. And that was the music. Original Filipino Music. OPM. And there’s a reason for it. My mom and I would get copies of home movies from her siblings, so that we could see everyone and all the celebrations we missing. In the background of pool parties or any party, songs would be playing. And they were faint but I could still make them out. They were songs I liked or came to like. So my aunt, likely at my grandmother’s insistence, would send me copies of the CDs my cousins loved so much.

            So no, music didn’t really fit on the poster board or in the project much at all. But I wanted it in there. And maybe it doesn’t make sense to anybody else, but it made sense to me. And it was my project. This was the only point at which I felt connected to anything. It was something of a rock. And considering how broad of a scope I was working on, anything helped. And considering how lost I could feel, anything helped.

            But everything was still being half-hazardly thrown together. And that’s a good thing because that’s how I found her. Lea Salonga.

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            If you are a nineties kid, you’d probably recognize her singing voice before anything else. She sung for the Disney movie, Mulan. Oh and if you’re super into musicals, she was the original Kim from Miss Saigon. And she’s found success in a couple different roles in Les Miserables. But yeah, I’ll admit she’s not exactly a household name. She’s the type of artist you find on your own. And I found her while I was working on this project.


            And what comes next is hard to put into words because it’s not like I printed out 20,000 pictures of her to hang up on my bed room wall. It wasn’t like I bought all of her CDs and instantly became her biggest fan, though I constantly came back to her work when I have the chance. And hey, this was pre-music streaming services days. I didn’t have a lot of money for CDs. Her CDs weren’t easy to find in the local Target. I was doing the best I could with my fandom. But that didn’t mean I liked her any less. On the contrary. Even without knowing too much about her, she became my hero. And while she seems like a great person, honestly there was just something about having the name of another person who was like me. Who was Filipino. Not necessarily who looked like me because I’m very clearly mixed, but you know what I mean.

            This one trait that set me apart from everyone else. It didn’t have to. Or at least, it gave me a different group to connect to.

            Lea Salonga is still an artist I love. And now that I can stream music, I stream her music constantly. She’s an amazing singer. Especially if you like show tunes, which aren’t my favorite thing. But it’s nice hearing her voice. It’s like the voice of an old friend I never get to see. It’s that familiarity and the comfort therein.

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            This has been a production of Miscellany Media Studios. Thank you for listening. Follow us on Twitter @miscellanymedia for updates on current and future projects. And there’s a Ko-Fi link in the descriptions if you would like support this project with a coffee. It takes a lot of caffeine to get through any research heavy show.


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