My good friend Lille Bose posted a note on Facebook today. In it, she spoke of how her grandmother, presumably now a retiree living somewhere in Wisconsin, sneered at Barack Obama’s acceptance speech – because, or so the story goes, Barack Obama is a black man and people like her have a general distrust for people of color.
I had an interesting conversation with the “older” people who live next door – my mother and her current best friend, an aunt of hers who spends a few nights now and then coming over for a nice visit. This aunt is a widow who met her late husband (a German national) while working for the United Nations. Like most of my relatives who are now or at one point in their lives based in the United States, she is a fanatical supporter of the Republican Party. She does not fail to send to my mother, my sister, and anyone else in her Yahoo! contact list the latest dirt she finds on Democrats and their candidates, Obama not excluded. She is not alone in this endeavor. Most of my relatives there are similarly engaged in the McCain campaign.
Fortunately, my mother, being sensitive to my libertarian tendencies, has decided to bear the brunt of these information campaigns, which does not mean to say that she does not believe in them – the opposite cannot be closer to the truth – but she hesitates forwarding these messages to me knowing I do not hesitate to classify them as spam.
This is not odd behavior to me. My family, including the aunt currently taking residence in my mom’s apartment, is from Subic, Zambales. Like most people who grew up around the naval base, I have a sizeable number of relatives who became United States citizens by joining the US Navy.
To these relatives of mine, citizenship in the United States is the greatest blessing God can bestow upon you. Not that I blame them for thinking this way. For many years, their income literally depended on the existence of foreigners. I assume that as this relationship between host and visitor continued, feelings of belonging and unity with Americans grew stronger. You add to that psyche field reports of a better life from those who moved to the other side. Some of the people in my family still harbor this kooky desire to have the Philippines annexed as a US state. Others are willing to do anything to be anywhere close to North America. Most wept bitterly when the Americans left Subic. If you believed their lamentations, it was the end of the world.
Whatever. And ever. Amen. (Thanks, Ben Folds.)
In a Shakespearean way, their gravest predictions turned into self-fulfilling prophecies. Despite (now Senator) Gordon’s best efforts, Olongapo (and by extension, Subic) never regained the vitality it had when the economy subsisted on the dole-outs and smuggled goodies (not to mention unbridled lust) of a few drunken sailors far from home.
At any rate, I grew up as a product of that economy that took full advantage of the Filipino colonial mentality and wanton greed: I was raised on a diet of rhetorical postulates: American products were the best, Reagan was a good president, the United States was the real Disneyland, and that Democrats are evil men not to be trusted with your life savings. My parents, who had both come into some measure of good fortune during this period, began to spout as gospel truth the ideal of conservative thought that appealed to them most: that hard work, prayer, and individual responsibility were the ingredients of success. This was all well and good back then – everyone (or so I had been raised to think) accepted these principles as conventional wisdom.
These ideals are not bad things per se, but I have seen firsthand how these ideals can warp minds. For instance, I was with my father one day when he wondered out loud why we should care about the guy suffering next door. Any suffering in this life, he reasoned, was the result of poor choices that the poor man made, and as such only that poor man should bear his own burden. Never mind that the man might have encountered an unfortunate event that he could not overcome by himself – he should have prepared accordingly.
Ever since he fell on hard times, my father has since put on an appearance of being dirt poor. With his image (or façade, I’d like to think) of stark poverty, I no longer hear these lines. I don’t know how he’ll react if I throw these words back at him. Perhaps it is better to stay quiet at such times. I don’t know.
The word I think I’m looking for, is “matapobre“.
To those who may not understand Filipino, the word “matapobre” is an adjective, derogatory in nature, used to describe someone who thinks another is lesser than him just because he has less in life. Sometimes it sums up how some relatives of mine look at those left behind in the Philippines – including me – until they come to me because of some legal problem. It thus seems to me, based on my experience, that the Filipinos that the Republican Party tends to attract are generally matapobre for the sole reason that they are Americans and we are not.
So it came to pass that I came to have most of my extended family in the San Diego area and other parts of Southern California in general. These persons enjoyed the best of the Reagan years, and as far as I know have built substantial retirement funds throughout that time. Southern California Republicans, I have heard them called. One sister of my grandmother lives in an affluent part of LA close to Hollywood, where she makes a living renting out property.
Once, at a dinner where I was asked to explain why the American image was in the doldrums, I went on a tirade on how inept the Bush administration was at handling itself and how it consistently violated international law, and how the anti-intellectual wing of the Republican Party was to blame for this mess. “Ouch,” said a cousin of my mother. “I’m a Republican.”
I stared at her long and hard.
These folks of mine are Catholic, financially stable, and pseudo-white. They are also the most racist people I know (next to the Chinese back here who won’t let their children marry someone of another race unless they were white or loaded with cash). Because they live in Southern California, my folks have come to see the worst of ghetto/gangsta culture in the face. They survived the worst of the LA riots and other instances of black violence. Because of that experience and their general experience handling sassy black characters (no other way to describe their encounters), my folks have come to the conclusion that black Americans are the worst characters on the planet.
Now, one of those black people that they fear so much is the President of the United States.
“Barack HUSSEIN Obama,” said my aunt as she complained to my mom bitterly about the President-elect of the United States. “Did you know he was raised in a madrassah in Indonesia? That guy is a terrorist.”
I winced at the words. “Tita, CBS news went to the site and found that it was a government-run pre-school. Mom, that’s like saying I’m a terrorist because I went to school here.” My aunt was undeterred. “A black man! Ha!”
To quote Fox News (said aunt’s favorite news channel), you decide.