We Claim the Soil


Tiny - Posted on 22 July 2011

We Claim the Soil

By ToMy uncle, the poet Al Robles, often wrote of the need to “take back our lives”.  He wrote of the lives of the manongs, the early Filipino immigrants whose lives of struggle in America allow those of us in the community who write the privilege to do so.  I seek to write with laughter, fire and spirit--qualities that allowed the manongs to survive American society.  Part of taking back our lives includes celebrating the life we do have.  So often we forget ourselves, our creator, our elders—the land.  We go after wants that are not only dispensible, but are, as Henry David Thoreau said, “Positive hindrances to the elevation of mankind”. 

 

I remember my Uncle Al walking across the face of Manilatown—a wandering poet—breathing the fish and rice smells of the manongs, walking with them—every breath a lifetime to cherish, remember and honor.  Every bowl of rice, every grain was a year, a season, a story to be told again and again.  The manongs living in the small rooms of manilatown on Kearny Street breathed resistance into the hearts, minds and lives of poets and activists who were--what my uncle called--the seeds of Manilatown that were planted long ago.  The poets were the manongs and the manongs were the poets who stood against the developer, the police, the slumlord.  The manongs had much to teach us about struggle but also about community.  Looking into the manong’s face is to see our reflection in a river.  The stones in the river hold stories.  We become wet with the lives, words and poetry of the manongs.  We become drenched in spirit, community and life.  We become caught in the flow of life, the movement, the direction of our ancestral past. 

 

At my present job I often think, there are no manongs here.  I work at an apartment complex that houses the affluent, where the anthems to gentrification are sung in hushed tones in the halls, corridors, restrooms, elevators and, of course, the property management office.  Many residents are young, some elders.  The lobby smells of eucalyptus one week, pine the next—shipped in by a aroma/fragrance manufacturer from the great state of Florida.

 

There’s a coworker I have whose presence is like fresh air.  He’s half-Filipino, half white.  The Filipino is written in his face—thick features that reveal a Filipino heart.  Many miss the Filipino written in his skin as he swings his mop and pushes his broom.  We talk and try to maintain a level of professionalism, which means pretending that anything that resembles who we really are remains beneath the surface.  We are trained to nod and repeat mantras such as, “Nice day outside…isn’t it?” and “Yes sir…I’ll get to it right away…no problem, no problem at all”. 

 

One of our duties is to raise the American flag each morning at 8am.  I carry the flag, tightly folded into a triangle.  He snaps the flag to a rope and pulls.  The flag slithers up the pole.  When it reaches the top, we gaze into the sky.  We see ravens and crows.  We hear them cry out.  We once saw something we thought was a rainbow. 

 

One day I say, “We should get a Filipino flag”.  “And do what with it?” he asks.  I tell him we should raise it.  He’s quiet for a moment, then says, “Yeah, I’m down with that”.  We walk back and slip into our jobs, our roles, our routine.

 

We take back our lives.  We claim the soil for our ancestors, our elders, our mothers, fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers whose stories live and breathe in the landscape of this country.  We claim the soil of our skin, the soil of our blood, the soil of our poetry, the soil of our journey.  We claim it for our children.  We pass it to their hands to plant the seeds of poetry, fire and struggle. 

 

My coworker and I will raise the Filipino flag one day.  But we honor the manongs and manangs every day by turning over the soil that covers the landscape of our hearts and minds.

 

 

© 2011 RWS

 

 

 

My uncle, the poet Al Robles, often wrote of the need to “take back our lives”.  He wrote of the lives of the manongs, the early Filipino immigrants whose lives of struggle in America allow those of us who write the privilege to do so.  I seek to write with laughter, fire and spirit, the qualities that allowed the manongs to survive American society.  Part of taking back our lives includes celebrating the life we do have.  So often we forget ourselves, our creator, our elders—the land.  We go after wants that are not only dispensible, but are, as Henry David Thoreau said, “Positive hindrances to the elevation of mankind”. 

 

I remember my Uncle Al walking across the face of Manilatown—a wandering poet—breathing the fish and rice smells of the manongs, walking with them—every breath was a lifetime to cherish, remember and honor.  Every bowl of rice, every grain was a year, a season, a story to be told again and again.  The manongs living in the small rooms of manilatown on Kearny Street breathed resistance into the hearts, minds, lives of poets and activists who were, what my uncle called, the seeds of Manilatown that were planted long ago.  The poets were the manongs and the manongs were the poets who stood against the developer, the police, the slumlord.  The manongs had much to teach us about struggle but also about community.  Looking into the manong’s face is to see our reflection in a river.  The stones in the river hold stories.  We become wet with the lives, words and poetry of the manongs.  We become drenched in spirit, community and life.  We become caught in the flow of life, the movement, the direction of our ancestral past. 

 

At my presentjob I often think, there are no manongs here.  I work at an apartment complex that houses the affluent, where the anthems to gentrification are sung in hushed tones in the halls, corridors, restrooms, elevators and, of course, the property management office.  Many residents are young, some elders.  The lobby smells of eucalyptus one week, pine the next—shipped in by a aroma/fragrance manufacturer from the great stare of Florida.

 

There’s a coworker I have whose presence is like fresh air.  He’s half-Filipino, half white.  The Filipino is written in his face—thick features that reveal a Filipino heart.  Many miss the Filipino written in his skin as he swings his mop and pushes his broom.  We talk and try to maintain a level of professionalism, which means pretending that anything that resembles who we really are remains beneath the surface.  We are trained to nod and repeat mantras such as, “Nice day outside…isn’t it?” and “Yes sir…I’ll get to it right away…no problem, no problem at all”. 

 

One of our duties is to raise the American flag each morning at 8am.  I carry the flag, tightly folded into a triangle.  He snaps the flag to a rope and pulls.  The flag slithers up the pole.  When it reaches the top, we gaze into the sky.  We see ravens and crows.  We hear them cry out.  Once we saw a rainbow.

 

One day I say, “We should get a Filipino flag”.  “And do what with it?” he asks.  I tell him we should raise it.  He’s quiet for a moment, then says, “Yeah, I’m down with that”.  We walk back and slip into our jobs, our roles, our routine.

 

We take back our lives.  We claim the soil for our ancestors, our elders, our mothers, fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers whose stories live and breathe in the landscape of this country.  We claim the soil of our skin, the soil of our blood, the soil of our poetry, the soil of our journey.  We claim it for our children.  We pass it to their hands to plant the seeds of poetry, fire and struggle. 

 

My coworker and I will raise the Filipino flag one day.  But we honor the manongs and manangs every day by turning over the soil that covers the landscape of our hearts and minds.

 

 

© 2011 RWS

 

 

 

"My coworker and I will raise the Filipino flag one day." Over the raft that sails you back to the Philipines, right?

filled with your hot air

as long as you go.

one half the team of Stunk and White

Gracias for your comment

...AND YOU'RE WELCOME.

it would be "STRUNG OUT AND WHITE"

...strung out, no. That's your thing.

"Rudeness is the weak man's imitation of strength"
--Eric Hoffer

...in the case of Anonymous 2, 4, 6, and 8

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