Sunday, April 16, 2006

Balancing the slight books

When two or more Filipinos meet abroad, it is only a matter of time before they begin reciting from their personal catalogues of racist experiences. Each Filipino keeps such a catalogue and what has been inscribed there can never be erased completely. Modified, perhaps, through time and growing understanding and confidence in oneself and a gradual finding of one’s place in the new country. But never erased.

Moreover, the negative experiences in that figurative scorebook are all cumulative, that is, they build upon each other to produce a discouraging picture, over all, of the new country. I think the probability of finding a job here that, even if blue-collar, pays twice as much as a middle-management job at, say, a Makati bank, does brighten that picture a bit.

What else helps to mitigate those niggling feelings of frustration, fear and anger in an affluent mostly-white society depends on the Filipino individual.

When I told my teacher, Michael, I didn't think Denmark was any more xenophobic than other countries, I wasn't speaking from a thorough knowledge of this land, or, for that matter, because I agree with the interesting opinions of the populist Dansk Folkeparti.

For after all, the private scorebook of racial slights I keep has entries dating back to 1979 in America, a few small notes scribbled in Britain, and a good deal of stuff written in my very own homeland.

I could have told him, for example, about being a nine-year-old in Ventnor, New Jersey, pursued day after day by the same trio of boys, all chanting, "Chinese, Chinese." They kept it up on the playground, at the bus stop and in the bus itself, riding to and from school. It did not occur to them that I may have been something else besides Chinese, nor to be merciful or gallant on account of my being a girl. One day, one of them -- I can still recall his name and every detail about his appearance -- came loping up to me as I stood in line at the bus stop and gave me a running kick, as though I were a soccer ball. The resulting bruise high up on my thigh took weeks to dissipate.

I could not bring myself to write about that experience until 2003, at the University of East Anglia in Britain. My family knew about it but never discussed it, and I never broached the topic with them; instead, in a strange way, I referred deprecatingly to the redheaded one, in private discussions with my older sister, as Billy Chinese. Certainly I needed to separate myself from that identity and project it as far from myself as possible -- preferably onto the attacker himself. I am sure it was because I was ashamed of myself. Why did I feel such self-disgust? Why did these eight-year-old three boys have the power to make me feel so worthless? They were children, certainly, but who had taught them that it was all right to harass "Chinese" and subject them to violence?

My friend Filo will understand this experience. She, too, was a victim of violence, but in Denmark -- off the Parliament building in Copenhagen no less. "Victim of violence" sounds too prissy. A Danish man beat her up. Over a minor traffic accident. On the pavement, in full public view. Nobody helped her. I think much of the diffused anger she feels toward this country stems from that incident.

Compared to an actual experience of violence, lesser instances of racism—parlor racism, if you like -- seem trivial: annoying, but not debilitating. Yet they, too, add up to create a climate of insecurity, such that in the aisles of Superbest or Magasin du Nord, one steps aside instinctively for white Danes, teenagers or pensioners alike, averting a collision, trying not to be a nuisance of oneself. One steels oneself before stepping up to a librarian or a ticket seller at the train station. And so on --

8 comments:

ramblingsoul said...

hi bing. joel here. link rin kita ha. :)

wendell said...

bing!wendell here.feels great to read your blog.btw,my classmate from UST journalism(friend namin ni lito zulueta) and former philippine star reporter tessie-cruz-larsen lives in copenhagen.her email is tessilarsen@hotmail.com.take care.w.

Kris said...

ms. bing, hello po! may mali po sa link for kris lacaba... ang berso ay pag-aari po ni kris berse :D

John Paul Abellera said...

Ms. Sitoy, I never had the chance to thank you for publishing two of my short stories in The Sunday Times. One of them, "Quiapo," was a finalist at the 2003 NVM Gonzalez Awards. So, thank you very much! I hope I get to meet you in person soon. Take care!

apol said...

hi. we don't know each other, but i can relate. i live in france and just recently this woman from nowhere pulled my hair (!) and called me a "thai puta." i was trying to be my normal self before that happened but now i've invented a short list of new rules to protect myself. and like your friend, i've begun to develop some anger for this country oo.

Anonymous said...

Dear Bing,

Greetings from Tahanan Books!

I need to contact you regarding your story, The Night Monkeys. Please write to me at fran@tahananbooks.com

Hope to hear from you soon!

Cheers,
Frances Ong
Editorial Department
Tahanan Books for Young Readers

Mike said...

Bing,

Blast from the past--this is Michael Sandoval from the US. At one point, before I got sucked into the world of film, we had a very nice correspondance. Back in '97-'98, I sent some letters out to your UP address that never got answered, and I figured you had moved, but I didn't know how to get in touch. Is there any way I can e-mail you?

Glad to see that you are experiencing many adventures!

Ingat,

Mike

Natsky V. said...

Bing!

Natsky here :) Loooong time no see, no hear, no whatev! Kumusta na? Didn't know you were in Denmark. Am also a student once more, here in Minnesota. Got draft-ish kinda blog at http://duluthdays.blogspot.com

Link kita ha! :) Oh and how do I get your e-mail addy. Mine's nbv18 (at) yaho.. (Trying to avoid those dang spambots). Anyway, would love to hear from you!