HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes Updated November 30, 2008 12:00 AM
A lot of positivity and negativity, irrationality and sentimentalism characterize my generation, the generation before mine, and even the present one’s feelings when the topic of America comes up.
In the Philippines, one grows up with a generous dose of American culture. In my time, our schoolbooks, the medium of instruction, the history that was taught us, were all American. Even when we studied Philippine history, so much of it had the US in it, most especially its political line that justified their continuing presence in the Philippines. America was everywhere and in everything in our daily life.
In the first 20 years of my life, America seemed to be such a wonderful place, with an almost mythical quality to it, where lots of wonderful, magical and creative things happened. There was Hollywood with its great movies and narratives that shaped my own dreams. At one time, I wanted to be Davy Crockett and fight a live bear, a cowboy who could lasso a wild horse and ride it from dawn till sunset, a Marine who could fight gloriously like the Americans did in The Longest Day, a spaceman, etc. America was a place where anyone could be anything he wanted to be.
In my teen years, Marilyn Monroe, Ali MacGraw, Natalie Wood, Katharine Ross, Audrey Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor and so many other American actresses, including sexy magazine centerfolds, sashayed into my libidinous fantasies. America’s sexual images delivered to us through the media shaped a lot of what we defined as sexy.
There was something about American women in the movies that was especially attractive to the Filipino male. Unlike Filipinas, they seemed aggressive, much more expressive and overtly affectionate, not to mention more abundantly endowed physically. They had an ephemeral “bitch-goddess” quality that defined what we adopted as our standards of beauty and lust.
America was also the source of good music. I memorized the original album of “West Side Story” from beginning to end. I thought it was one of the greatest musical works ever created. I still do. I remember my dad playing George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue on the piano. I adored pop music as well.
Pop and rock-and-roll have been constant influences and sources of joy and inspiration to me all these years. They were powerful forces in molding my musical taste. I thought Motown’s soul music was one of the greatest musical genres ever. Jazz was simply out of this world. My musical idols were mostly American—Stevie Wonder, Frank Sinatra, Frank Zappa, Billy Joel, Duke Ellington, Quincy Jones, Ella Fitzgerald, Steely Dan, and so many others.
The greatness of America extended to other fields as well, such as sports, science, fashion and style, and the arts. Muhammad Ali, Michael Jordan, Albert Einstein, Any Warhol were just a few of my personal idols. But to me, the greatest gifts that America exported to the world were the humanist concepts of equality, justice, opportunity, freedom and self-determination—values I held deep in my heart. Because of these, I held America in the highest esteem and affection.
America was the land of the possible where cutting-edge ideas were conceived and made flesh. I wanted to spend my life there. After I got married, my wife and I had planned to settle there. We even got green cards.
But as my love affair with the “land of the free” was going on, there were events taking place in the Philippines that demanded a wider, morerealistic view of my sentiments and relationship towards the US vis-à-vis my own country. The First Quarter Storm in the early ’70s opened my eyes to America’s imperialist motives in coming to the Philippines—something the Zaide history books we read in school never discussed honestly. Its support of the Marcos dictatorship was a shocking reality to me, who thought that the very existence of the dictatorship was a stark contrast to everything America professed to hold dear.
In fact, it was during the last days of Marcos when Ronald Reagan was still vacillating on whether the US was going to recognize the new Cory government that I first contemplated giving up my green card. I could not believe that Reagan, who was scheduled to visit the Philippines, had said that there was cheating on both sides! Luckily, Senator Lugar’s message to Marcos to cut and cut clean saved the day somewhat for the US, although many of us felt it had no other choice but to do what it did.
During the Cory years, I campaigned against the renewal of the US bases treaty. A song I wrote for APO called American Junk said it all as far as I was concerned. The euphoria of people power ringing in a new government was a political, cultural and a seminal coming-of-age for me. Senator Manglapus put it so well when he used the metaphor of “killing the great white father” to describe our process of weaning away from the security of having American bases in our country. I felt that we, as a people, were coming into our own.
America in my eyes was still a great nation, but I had now fallen in love with my own country. I promptly gave up my green card after the failed December coup led by Honasan where we almost lost our newfound freedom. I felt that I personally had to be present here to protect our freedoms by giving up my escape hatch.
The Clinton years were great as far as my sentiments about America were concerned; I thought that the US generally stood up for the right values as far as world affairs were concerned. Except for a few places, the world loved America. Clinton epitomized American charm at its best. In my eyes, the Lewinski affair did nothing to diminish Bill Clinton’s reputation. Politically speaking within the US context, I am a deep, left-of-center Democrat who is more forgiving of sexual pecadillos than war crimes.
When George W. Bush came to power, I was close to losing all my affection and respect for America. I was angry at this nation that professed the values of Lincoln and JFK but acted out the rhetoric of Rush Limbaugh and other Neo-cons. The sympathy generated by 9-11 quickly dissipated after Bush’s invasion of Iraq under false pretenses. I was awakened to the reality that with its invasion of Iraq, the suspension of some of the human rights of its own citizens, its policy of torture, Guantanamo and its arrogant treatment and disdain for the UN, America was, like Germany under Hitler, capable of becoming a fascist state.
America, she of the Statue of Liberty, the country of Jefferson and everything associated with an open and free society, was not a special idea after all. It, too was fallible and had its own fatal weakness like every other nation. Many times, I pondered with great distress on the fate of the world — with the only super power behaving so badly.
The Bush legacy with its hypocrisy and right-wing excess will hopefully be just be a blip, an aberration – though a costly one – in America’s history.
The spectacular rise and triumph of Barack Obama has made a lot of people, including myself, take a second sympathetic look at America. The US, with its image battered all over the world, its morale sunk so low, and its power and influence diminishing, could still spring a fabulous surprise on the world – and on itself.
I was ecstatic when Barack Obama won the presidency. To me it was a sign that America had come back to its senses, awakened to its greater self and touched base with what it preached. A black man with the middle name of Hussein, of mixed parentage and an alien past, has won. That makes me consider that perhaps the American dream is not yet a spent force.
This single event has turned the world around a considerable degree. Once again, I am in awe of the US and its capacity to correct itself. I have started to revisit American authors, artists, books and movies that I sometimes consciously bypassed in protest during the Bush years. I am liking America once again.
The world is on to a new beginning. The world’s most powerful person is black, the richest is an Indian, and the fastest-rising region is Asia. A still-powerful though more benign America playing its part in it will hopefully be of great benefit to the world.
Dying to live
HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes Updated November 23, 2008 12:00 AM
Have you had long episodes when you felt like you were walking on unsure territory, where you found it hard to see beyond what seemed to be the dreary fog of life, when everything seemed like an aimless, meaningless blah? When I am in such a funk, my higher self wants me to break out into something new. And longer periods like this are sure signs of new major undertakings.
Transitions are scary. One is being asked to leave one place and go to another. Never mind that the place one is leaving has become boring, transitions can still be daunting. It demands of whoever is going through one to let go of the safety harness in one comfort zone and jump into another, and in the process become untethered, unsafe and unattached, (hopefully for only a while) until one reaches (if ever) the new terra firma.
When we decided on our move to Australia, I was weary of the political situation in the Philippines which seemed stuck in a deathly inertia. I also remember feeling that everything else I was doing was pretty much a been-there-done-that affair. I felt the ache that the rest of my spirit was feeling because it needed to find something new to come alive to. I remember trying to imagine seeing people I love for the last time since one can never tell what could possibly happen. I remember selling our cars and seeing our prized possessions being packed in boxes for shipment to a country where we had only a few friends or relatives. It was scary — definitely — but at the same time, the very boldness of it made me feel alive to myself.
In moments like these, one’s senses awaken and it can be a profound spiritual experience. Any new person I meet, a new detail I encounter, a path uncovered becomes a sign that seems to affirm that I am being led to a new life that awaits me. It feels like God, in His/Her/Its divine plan, is doing the leading. How can it be otherwise? Serendipity is everywhere. The signs unmistakably affirm the decision of the new life wanting to be lived.
It is definitely a growth spurt of sorts, and like all growth, it asks us to turn away from the familiar and embrace the new. In many ways, it is like what we experienced in our teenage years when we woke up to discover our young bodies being reshaped for tasks that would go beyond what we were doing as children. All of a sudden, we were taller with more body hair and bodily urges that were so powerful. It definitely felt different. Needless to say, we felt unsure of ourselves in this new body. There was an awkwardness, a doubt, a confusion about what we had become. We sensed that something in us was dying and something new was being born.
In such moments of great change when one is in the process of leaving one state to go to another, the challenge is not to look back, although the temptation to do so is great. One must continue to walk on the path even though it is unsure, dark and often bleak. To look back and ask the “what ifs” about one’s decisions too early in the journey is to become stuck — like Lot’s wife in Sodom and Gomorrah, immobile and turned into a “pillar of salt”! Scary as it is, we must do it if we are to move forward because it is the path to growth. One might even feel at times that to continue is part of one’s soul journey. Emerson put it well when he said that “God will not have his work made manifest by cowards.”
This process of dying and awakening into something new requires a new mindset. The worst attitude to have is to leave one place and go to another only to expect to live the exact same old life one had, rejecting new things that will surely come along. It’s a sure prescription for unhappiness, like insisting on experiencing summer in a winter setting!
I admire people who go through life’s stages almost seamlessly, who are able to pick up the pieces after a tragedy, like those who are able to find a new love and marry after the death of a spouse, or the end of a long standing relationship. Or former addicts who are able to have functional happy lives after rehab. Or people who leave jobs they have been in forever and boldly move on to new careers. There is something light and nimble about their ability to drop what has stopped working and leave it behind regardless of sentimental ties in order to embrace the new wave that can make one bigger.
Have you ever realized that many times, we may be putting more effort into preventing growth than simply allowing it to happen unimpeded? Yes, it does take effort (often unconscious) to be lonely just as it takes effort to be happy. It takes effort to maintain our biases, defend our views, feed our fears, and argue in defense of our shallower convictions that keep changing.
Being unconscious can bring us to lonely, sad places in our lives that are actually prisons where our spirits die. From time to time, all of us do in fact live there, but there are those who, tragically, do not know any other home.
Life, I believe, is a cycle of birth, death, acquisition and loss, a dance marathon of opposites. Wherever we find ourselves, its opposite will manifest after a while if our life is to be completely lived. To awaken is to consciously accept what has died in us, to mourn it and move on to something where we can have a greater experience of being alive. Being awake allows us to choose being happy and free.
For roughly the same effort, where would we rather invest our time and resources and our lives, in consciously choosing joy or unconsciously choosing fear?
The following quote from Rumi, one of my favorite poets, never fails to soothe my fears about any transition I must go through. He wrote:
“I died a mineral, and became a plant. I died a plant and rose an animal. I died an animal and I was man. Why should I fear? When was I less by dying?”
I’ve been getting orders for the new APO album from a lot of overseas readers. Some orders coming from the US I have passed on and are now being handled by our LA distributors. You can email them at Kewlitco@gmail.com if you are interested.
Orders from Aus, New Zealand, and even some people in the US who want it personally signed by the three of us are handled by yours truly. I will be getting the orders sent out and done by the first week of December. My daughter will be bringing them to Aus and it shall be mailed from there or picked up from our house in Glenwood, NSW.
For those who want the album delivered straight to your computer, click here. Yes, we are online. Some of our old stuff can be found in Itunes but the new album is available through pinoytunes.net.
We are proud of this. It’s an Indie (independent) album. We turned down big labels who were interested because we wanted to record what we wanted to record, period. No to trying to sound ‘radio-friendly’ and all of that commercial crap. We wanted our music to represent us. Believe it or not, we are selling really well despite the fact that we are not in stores. Most people buy their copies during our concerts or they go to the APO office at 129 Esteban Abada, Loyla Heights, QC to get it there. Get your orders in bulk so it’s worth the trip. You can call to reserve at 4275301/4265375.
Some songs in the album are re-recordings of old songs but done in an entirely different way now. The years have given us fresh insights into the songs, thus the arrangements and a lot of the delivery have changed. These are the current ‘live’ versions of the songs now but recorded in the studio. There are about three to four songs that may be entirely new to many of you because we only do them live.The have also never been recorded previously.
* * *
Am back in Manila to do a few shows before Christmas. My recent Sydney stay was definitely ‘downtime’ for me. All I did was sleep, eat, do housework and a little writing and photography. . I only went out a few times and only once to the city. I just needed to catch my breath after APO’s big Araneta show and its attending preparations, promo and rehearsals, a photo exhibit at Megamall, and a short US tour.
It was good to live simply and quitely.
I am writing this from my bed in my room. It is raining outside. My concerts begin tomorrow and it becomes hectic again. I will be visitinf Davao, Cagayan de Oro and Iligan for some concerts too. In between, I hope to do some photography, see old classmates who are coming home for the alumni homecoming, have dinners, discussions with some people whose company I enjoy, do some writing and just have fun.
We grow up believing that certain truths are etched in stone and are therefore eternal and unchanging. A lot of what is supposed to be eternal has to do with beliefs and morals that are supposed to affect and guide the way we think and conduct ourselves. There are also cultural customs and practices that have been introduced to us in a more subliminal manner but affect us equally and we express them as attitudes — biases, if you will — that we harbor about people, social mores, and even life itself. They pretty much constitute our core moral compass.
And these beliefs that anchor us, that keep us grounded, are, not surprisingly, almost always under assault by time and by the times. Consider the medieval dogma which proclaimed that the world is flat. It took a quantum leap for the Church to come around and bring its thinking up to speed on the reality that the world is, um, round.
More currently, consider the events in the past few months when Wall Street, the bastion of material wealth and, to many, the only real wealth on earth that is worth anything, collapsed with no visible or probable rescue in sight. This is a direct assault on the economic doctrine of capitalism as we know it. The bottom has given way and no one knows when the free fall will end. Meanwhile, the only thing that is certain is uncertainty itself. Everyone is anxiously waiting for the “thud” to happen when we hit rock bottom for some semblance of certainty.
Or consider the mind-blowing reality that the new president of the US is an African-American. Who would have thought this could happen, even just two years ago?
In these times when things are changing so fast, it’s hard to distinguish what will remain eternally true and which “truths” will be unmasked and exposed as having reached their expiration date. Centuries ago, the pace of change was so slow that people looked to the past to determine their course of action in the present and future.
It was easy to feel certain about one’s beliefs and traditions. One became a farmer because one’s father, grandfather and great grandfather were farmers. Very little, if at all, changed from generation to generation. That was just how things were.
These days, people choose careers and lifestyles independently of how their parents lived theirs. They may even change careers a number of times in their lifetime. That’s just how the world is today. Things have changed and will continue to do so at an even faster rate.
I have caught myself many times blindly following truths and assumptions, taking for granted that they will always be true, only to end up walking into a solid wall. How is it that, all of a sudden, what used to be is not so anymore? I swear there wasn’t a wall there before I bumped into it. I guess I should expect this to happen many more times.
When I was young, the world seemed so much more innocent, so unlike what we have now. There were no pedophile priests (at least we never heard about them), sins were divided into mortal and venial, and to die without confessing a grievous sin assured one of eternal damnation. Life was simple and defined. There was an absoluteness, and therefore a certainty, about how one should conduct one’s self.
There are many who decry the perceived loss of morals today and blame it for the mess and instability in the world. They condemn the “situational ethics” which has replaced simplistic black-and-white thinking. In their conservative view, where there are no North stars to follow, people will go astray! And they are right. We need to be grounded and guided by so-called unchanging values. The problem is in determining which values these are in a rapidly changing world which we often have to navigate without a rear-view mirror.
On the other hand, the intellectual Alfred North Whitehead said, “There are no whole truths: all truths are half-truths. It is trying to treat them as whole truths that plays the devil.” He seems to be hitting the penchant for dogmatism and rigidity that leaves no room for adjustment, rethinking, reframing or even dropping beliefs in the face of newly emerged facts.
I remember the pathetic woman who, in one of John McCain’s campaign sorties, expressed her belief that Obama is an Arab. This, despite the fact that Obama has repeatedly declared that he has been going to a Christian church for 30 years. It was sad and tragic to see such ignorance displayed by someone who, even in the face of the truth, was unable or unwilling to accept a reality beyond what she insists she “knows.”
I also cannot fathom how otherwise rational people can become totally closed and intractable when certain topics arise. I refer to the issue of reproductive health and family planning. I have heard the arguments of those who stand against a woman’s right to reproductive health and I respect them even if I do not agree with them.
I cannot, however, go along with those who promote unlikely scare scenarios to back their side. For example, I was shocked years ago when leaders of the Church actually suggested that then Health Secretary Juan Flavier, a decent public servant and promoter of family planning, was an “abortionist.” Lately, I have heard people condemn the reproductive health bill now pending in Congress as part of a plot by the Western world to slow down the population growth of non-whites in the world because whites find people of colora threat to their primacy.
Beliefs can be positive or negative, and one way to know is to check whether they move forward our perception and understanding of an ever-expanding world. This is easier said than done. Habits of thought persist and even if logic may expose doctrines that have stopped being credible and helpful, our sentimental links to them may be difficult to relinquish.
I resonate with the tenet of non-attachment in all things, and that includes beliefs. We must learn to let go of them when it is time to do so. It is not easy, but if we want to create space for the new, we must learn to set aside those things that have stopped working.
I would like to share a Zen story about the temptation people encounter when seeking the truth.
“One day Mara, the Evil One, was traveling through the villages of India with his attendants. They saw a man doing walking meditation whose face was lit up in wonder. The man had just discovered something on the ground in front of him. Mara’s attendant asked what that was and Mara replied, ‘A piece of truth.’
“‘Doesn’t this bother you when someone finds a piece of truth, O Evil One?’ his attendant asked. ‘No,’ Mara replied. ‘Right after this, they usually make a belief out of it.’”
It is good to be reminded that reality is what remains after our beliefs reach their expiration date.
Chad Peralta three years ago taken at the Pinoy Dream Academy set.
Two Saturdays ago, I attended an intimate concert of Chad Peralta at the Basement in Blacktown. Chad was one of the scholars of the first Pinoy Dream Academy season three years go. I remember meeting him then as a quiet, responsible and intense young man. And yes, promising too. But even if I believed in him, I was just totally blow away by how much he had progressed as a performer in this concert even if he was surely helped by a solid 3 piece backup band.
Chad’s presence on stage is something else. He stands tall and strong and displays a youthful charisma characterised by boldness and sureness of delivery. He sang songs by Rivermaya, Santana, etc. with a lot of energy and an attitude like he OWNED them which to me is what makes a good performer. I especially enjoyed he song ‘Smooth’ which he played with some cousins. I caught mslf shaking my body in my seat and whistling in approval after every song. The night ended with everyone feeling high. I was just too happy to see a fellow artist who has progressed a lot.
I am excited to see what he will be like a few years from now. With his discipline and his right attitude, he will go quite a distance.
* * * Allan Tomkins’ guitars. I love the black with the blue neck!
Last Thursday, I went out with two friends Toti Bautista and Anton Ruiz to see an Allan Tomkins guitar showcase concert. Allan Tomkins is one of the best guitar makers in Aus. It was the second time in two years that I attended his gig wher he showcases his creations with Aussie country singers.
The Boy Wonder of guitar Bryan Browne.
In the second half of the show, a young boy of 15 years named Bryan Browne took to the stage and played two instrumental numbers. I can’t recall the titles of the tunes but I know I will not forget how extremely good he was with the guitar. He played with such an amazing, jaw-dropping agile dexterity with the solidness of a mature guitarist–quite a feat for someone so young. The next performer after him summed it up with the comment, ” I have been playing guitar for 30 years and everything I know, Brian was able to play in three minutes.’
Anton Ruiz, Toti Bautista, Byan Browne and yours truly.
After his performance, I asked him if I could take his photo and he gladly obliged. Talking to him, I discovered that he had been invited to many gigs and performed in the US and Europe including a few Nashville Country Music and Jazz festivals. He has met a few of the guitar greats of the world (he knows them on a first name basis) and will be responding to invitations by the Chet Atkins Society to play for its 25th anniversary. I couldn’t help but be amazed at all this considering he is 15 years old.
And the most pleasant thing I discovered about him is that he is half Pinoy! He was born in QC ad his mother is a Punzalan. His Aussie father used to play in a 60’s band called Shades and he taught Brian how to play. He learned his chops listening to the Shadows, Ventures and the like. The kid owns 29 guitars including an Allan Tomkins (which I will buy one for myself soon)! One of these days, I would like to invite him to the Philippines and set up gigs for him. He could teach our young bands a trick or two about guitar playing.
A lot of young people believe that impressive guitar playing means playing it loud and with lots of distortion using power chords. Although he can do that, Brian likes to play the guitar mostly ‘clean’ and flawless. Every note is clear no matter how fast he plays them. If you have a myspace acount, listen to Bryan Browne play. His user name is ‘mrguitarjunior’. He named himself after his idol master guitarist Chet Atkins who was known as Mr. Guitar! I believe he is also acessible in youtube.
Hey Brian, you make your fellow Pinoys proud. Rock on, mate!
I was ardently following the surveys during the US elections to see the shift in the tectonic plates of public opinion. Our own elections are coming up in less than 18 months. That’s not a long time.
I am presenting to you 10 questions below that I hope will not just stimulate your interest but will provide this amateur opinion gatherer some idea of how people are thinking.
If you do respond, please put a numerical value (1 to 100) to the question (the higher the number to show agreement with statement). If enumeration is being asked, please state them. If it is a yes, or no question, answer accordingly. If you are not answering all the questions, let me know which questions you are answering by putting the question no., OK?
I know this survey will fall short of a scientific sampling to reflect a clear national consensus but his should be interesting.
OK, here goes:
1) How much of what you see in Philippine life today reflect your own values which you would wish to pass on to the next generation? (State a number from 1 to 100)
2) Name 5 politicians or public figures in the Philippines you can believe in?
3) Are you better off now than you were ten years ago?
4) If you could enumerate the top three things that worry you about the Philippines, what would they be?
5) What are the top three qualities you want in the next President?
6) Are things getting better or worse in the Philippines?
7) Given the chance, would you migrate or choose to stay? Why?
8) Do you think the Philippines is headed in the right direction?
9) Which public persons (official, or personality)do you dislike and would want to see or hear less off?
10) Which sectors of Philippine society (government, Church, military, professionals, entertainment, academe, business, sports, media, politics, etc. are still credible in your opinion?
11) Do you see yourself actively campaigning if a candidate of your choice presents him/herself?
It was quite a Sunday we had. The weather was beautiful. It was also Lydia’s birthday and we (Lydia and I with Malou, Charlie Moraza and heir kid Javi) decided to go to the City for the day. After mass at a suburb near by, we took a 50 minute train ride to Sydney and went to one of Lydia’s favorite restaurants called Belgian Cafe where we had really delicious mussels for lunch. Yummy! I am not a great mussels fan but I loved it! Unbelievably tasty, delicious and so pleasantly memorable.
After a sumptuous lunch, we took another train ride to St James and feasted our eyes on art, art and more art. We spent an extra 18 dollars each to see the Claude Monet exhibit in one of the rooms at the NSW Art Museum.
Claude Monet in his studio!
I caught myself staring at this Monet painting for a few eternal minutes. It seemed to arrest me aesthetically.The painting is much more mesmerizing in real life.. Monet, Renoir, Degas, Sisley, etc. belong to the impressionistic movement in art which is one of my favorite aesthetic waves in art history.
I’m an art junkie. Museums arouse in me a sense of wonder and awe. I find it quite impressive that through something we call art which a piece of visual work enclosed in a frame, humans can convey a sense of beauty, balance and aesthetics that can touch us to the core.
We also went around and admired the other works of art all over the museum.
It was a great day spent with good friends, the Morasas. Lydia and I were happy to celebrate her birthday in a different kind of way!
Yes, we can
HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes
Sunday, November 9, 2008
Myths are public dreams. Dreams are private myths. — Joseph Campbell
I had written another article for this week but history intruded in the form of the fantastic win of Barack Obama.
Something new and historic has begun. A new narrative has captured the world. The US election had something gigantically and wonderfully mythical playing out. A compelling story that was impossible to ignore, it had many riveting twists and sub-plots running simultaneously.
Here are some:
This was a story of a young man, black, disadvantaged, from a lower-middle-class family, with a name and background that was, for all practical purposes, politically incorrect in a post-9/11 America. He was not your typical American-as-apple-pie candidate — not with a middle name like Hussein and a father from Kenya. Yet he dreamed beyond what his race, background, his society and its biases and prejudices allowed him to do. And he succeeded beyond measure.
It was also the story of someone, an outsider in the power circle, a virtual unknown who was unlikely to become a major player, at least not so soon. But because of his persistence, his cool demeanor, his superior intelligence, and the most flawless and effective campaign ever run in modern history, he succeeded beyond even his wildest dreams.
It was also the story of a neophyte, an upstart, a political ingénue who rallied a demoralized people whose basic character and confidence in themselves have been shaken to the core. He did so by confronting the monster. He slew the monster of indifference, pessimism and fear and did so by uniting, inspiring, tantalizing and leading them to the Promised Land by way of his rhetoric.
Lastly, it was also the story of youth and idealism rising above the old order.
Wow! It has been a while since narratives as powerful as these have played out this largely on the world stage. Stories of greed, the brazen use of power for power’s sake, lying, terrorism, fundamentalism, vulgarity and destruction have dominated our lives for sometime now. And then a mythical story like this comes along to electrify us!
This election is not just an American story. While a lot of it is about America waking up to its own goodness and better judgment, it is a story that has many meanings in many places, not just among democratic, functional and rich states but also in places like Kenya, the Philippines, the Middle East and other parts of the world.
It’s a universal story and it speaks to a lot of people. They see in Obama the embodiment of hope that everyone yearns for in their symbolically heroic and daunting struggle for a better life. They are inspired and empowered by his message of hope. “Yes, we can,” I believe, is the new mantra for people demoralized and wandering aimlessly in the desert of uncertainty and fear — which is a large sector of the world population.
In the Philippines, many people identified with the persona of Barack Obama and are wishing for a similar phenomenon to happen here. I believe that the “savior” of our country will be someone outside the club of the usual cast of characters who have been parading themselves as leaders of presidential caliber. The time is ripe for a David to enter the ring and cast his lot and challenge the Goliaths who prevent our country from emerging from the inertia of corruption, poverty and squalor. Filipinos love a good fight, and the more heroic the struggle may be, the more we can identify with it.
The last time we had a good “David and Goliath” story going was when Cory Aquino ran for election. It was a paradoxically powerful story of the weak (woman, wife of a victim, widow) overpowering the high and mighty. It was a narrative that had everyone intensely involved and it produced a story that inspired the world as well.
The ideal candidate — the one we are looking for — must have a story equally compelling to move our people out of apathy, indifference and hopelessness. We must find the candidate who can speak clearly and subliminally and on many levels, and situate himself in mythical stories that can move the electorate. He/she must communicate the dreams we have for ourselves and our people and the urgency with which we move to act in a heroic manner in order to pursue it.
“It is a myth, not a mandate, a fable not a logic, and symbol rather than a reason by which men are moved,” says Erwin Edman, an American Philosopher. The mythical appeal of a leader is not something rational. I believe, in a sense, FPJ had it. People gravitated towards him because his films were about the little man who, when pushed into a corner, could fight and win. Never mind that he was not intellectually prepared for the job. He embodied a mythical story.
Because of the collective experience of our OFWs, today’s Filipinos may be more conscious of the need to find a leader who has seen how things work in more functional societies, and who is willing to take his people to a level where they can experience abundance and good governance right at home. Perhaps that could be one template among many. In a way, it is an elaboration of the story of Rizal who was educated abroad and came home to face the demons of the old order. There are many other templates, to be sure.
Will this leader materialize in time? I don’t know. All I know is that we once experienced how great we could be when we all came together in 1986. We may not repeat that story in the same way. To duplicate it is the wrong approach. Who was it that said the first time anything historical happens, it is drama, but the second time, it is farce? Thus EDSA 2 and 3 failed to move us in the right way.
It is time for this would-be leader to dig deep into his or her soul and respond to the call to animate and embody our national dream and spirit for change. Like Barack Obama, he or she could have the majority of Filipinos believing once again that, yes, we can!