Collaborative Statement: How Our Space Has Always Been Ours

Love In Our Little World
Image: “Love In Our Little World” by Bea Hayward, 2020


Vocals by Elsa Valmidiano

penned by Elsa Valmidiano and Bea Hayward, two Ilocana sisters, bound by ancestral blood and ancestral land, Elsa an Aswang and Bea the modern incarnation of Lakapati

*updated: Trinidad Escobar, a Bruha, also participated in the drafting of this collaborative statement so she has been added and acknowledged accordingly

We are still here thousands of years later.

I open the space with a poem.

TWO MANANANGGAL DISCUSS DINNER PLANS*

I was pregnant then. 

After 1000 years,
my sister and I no longer had

gray skin but evolved into

brown like the rest. We no longer had

dragon wings etched
into our shoulder blades

but crooked spines—
our bodies upright snakes
underneath layers of winter clothes. 

Our slithering tongues replaced

by pink meaty flesh that would

talk sex
and eat sex
and spew profanities
when there was a full boat
needing to be rocked.

With stony eyes, my sister warned me
not to eat my children.

Her words were appetizers
as I sat frozen in trance

stopping short of comprehension
before crashing.

But there was nothing I could do.

My body eventually did.

*

You were very much wanted
in a world that doesn’t want you.

*
You were very much wanted
in a body that didn’t want you.

*

My brown and white child
had a viability

smaller than a mosquito
and yet indefatigable

leeching off of my flesh
all day long.

In exchange,
my body would swallow it whole—

a fine tango, 
an absurd little cuckoo bird 
popping out ‪at midnight, 

or like dominoes falling
without so much as the prodding of a finger but

soaking up the vibration of songs,
teetering and then slowly top-

                                                       pl-

                                                             ing 

                                                                        o-

                                                                              ver.

*

The healing herbs of the mangkukulam
which our mothers would’ve brewed 1000 years ago

have become the laughingstock
of Big Pharma

when Big Pharma climbs over the fence,
steals our herbs,

and patents their loot with bottles
that no longer read Makabuhay

but are unquestioningly followed to give life.

They mass-distribute their gritty little sugar pills
like loaves and fish as if it were their magic.

*

For us, our charm persists inside our bodies

declaring their own mutiny.

What do dinner plans look like
between Manananggal these days?

Eating the young. Eating their young.

Eating our own. 

We are tempted.

We sometimes refrain.

We sometimes give in. 

We haven’t changed.

*updated: Before the statement begins, Trinidad Escobar wanted to highlight a significant point with regards to what has been happening in the past few days which has been echoed extensively below in the rest of the statement, and for purposes of beginning the statement, needs to be addressed foremost before reading forward:

There is a myriad of Filipina/x experiences in the Diaspora. Perhaps you are an adoptee in a suburban part of the US or Canada who has few relationships with Filipinas/xs. Or perhaps the Filipinas/xs familia you know right now are unsafe or disconnected. I take into account nuanced experiences of seemingly isolated or alienated people in the Diaspora. When we turn to the internet for answers, we can first turn to people—not content creators and bloggers without a face—real people who share our multidimensional cultural elements through dance, music, art, weaving, and so forth.

I want to acknowledge each and every person’s feelings who have experienced trauma, sadness, rage, exasperation, and frustration over the past three days. I hear you. I feel you. And everything you feel is completely valid.

One thing I really appreciated seeing was all of the Aswang Warriors and Babaylan who came forward, out of the woodwork, to fight this cyberwar, and I am sure you are all fabulous people, and I would love to meet you one day, and I don’t want our communications to be limited to just cyberspace.

The thing I realized as the big take away from this collective experience is that as a Filipina/o/x people, (1) we are everywhere (2) our Oral Tradition has not died (3) we’re here for it.

The thing about the Jordan Clarks of the world, who parade around as us, is that they think they can give us our history through another medium outside Oral Tradition.

Let’s say that your parents or grandparents are not with you anymore. So you feel like you don’t have any grounding for Oral Tradition because now the people in the generation before you have joined the ancestors. The solution to that is: family and friends who still have their elders that are around you in your immediate space. Seek them out. And this is the thing: these are the people who love you.

You know how there’s that running joke that we’re all related in the archipelago? You know that joke. I know you do. It’s actually sort of true when you think about the Diaspora. Why is it that whenever we move in the world whether it’s Australia, Ireland, Doha, Dubai, a small town in Virginia, we always find each other. Filipinos are all over the world. I don’t think we should replace our search for our pre-colonial history, our mythology, our ancestors through the Internet. We need to do the work and find Oral Tradition through the people that are right beside us. That is our world. We exist in a vacuum here in the cyberworld. And that’s all great and everything but it is not the real world, but I can understand how cyberspace can feel like the real world where you’ve met so many people.

A lot of people have asked me how do we shut down these white supremacists that are trying to infiltrate our space? They’re actually already shut down because our true space, the ancestral space, exists outside of the cyberworld. The truth is that we cannot control the Internet. It’s a piranha tank and so we have to be very careful about the spaces we choose to enter in the cyberworld, and consider, are these people I really want to hang out with in real life if they’re using gaslighting, transphobic, homophobic, misogynist, and racist language? Probably not, and if you found yourself in a physical room of 25 people who thought that way, you’d probably want to leave and not try to persuade them otherwise. The same goes in the cyberworld.

What we can do though because our culture is based on Oral Tradition is that we build communities that are actually people who we meet and hug and have brunch with. The problem is that we’re living in a pandemic, and so it feels so hard where the connections that are part of our genetics, the connections that are in our bones, naturally gravitate us as part of a community.

That’s the thing about these white supremacists. They are working behind these computer screens. They are not part of any healthy community. But it’s naturally in our blood that we be part of a community to share our stories, our joys, our memories, and our struggles. But we can’t do any of that at the moment because we’re stuck in a pandemic. We can’t fight this cyber crusade forever and stop every white supremacist online. But when this pandemic is over, and we can gather together again with our friends and family and hug and meet and go to poetry readings and go to concerts and go to brunch and just go to a party and hang out with our family and friends, that’s where the Oral Tradition survives.

I also understand that we have Filipina/o/xs in our community who are lonely. And being lonely is antithetical to who we are as a people because we naturally exist as community. And so given the times that we are living in as descendants in the Diaspora and even in the Motherland, it’s easy to just turn on your computer or look at your phone and instantaneously connect with someone.

I’m going to segue out of this shortly but I’m going to return. I want you to right now imagine your Great-Lola. Even if you’ve never met her. I’m sure a lot of us have never met our Great-Lolas, and if you have, it fills my heart that some of us had that opportunity.

Now I want you to imagine your Great-Lola. I want you to imagine a morning where she wakes up. What time did she get up? What was that morning like? Was it cool? Was it humid? Was it dry? Was it breezy? There’s only two seasons in the Motherland, which if anybody knows, is wet or dry season. What season was it? Upon waking, what did the air smell like? What side of the mat or banig, did your Great-Lola rise from? Was your Great-Lolo already up? Or was he still sleeping? Was your Great-Lola widowed? How old was she? How many babies were in the house sleeping? Was her hair down? Was her hair up? Did she comb her hair before she left the room? Who was in the room? Was it a gigantic room where everyone shared sleeping space with one another? Was the house made of bamboo or stone or both? Did the house have stairs? Did she creep downstairs? What did she prepare that morning for food? Did she hum while she cooked? Or was she quiet? What did her cheeks feel like when her children would kiss her in the morning and she would give them sniff kisses on their cheeks?

I bring up these images that you need to imagine who your Great-Lola was because it’s in these moments of intimacy where we find our ancestors and wonder about who they were as people and that we can touch them. It’s not just about my Great-Lola was a farmer. Period. My Great-Lola was married at this age. Period. Those facts are great. It’s good to have facts to give you that placement in their history, but it’s also valuable to connect to the details of someone’s life so that when you’re living your life, you carry on that Oral Tradition in the simple things that you do today. When you’re walking down the street to drop off your rent check or mortgage payment, do you ever think about how your Great-Lola would walk down a dirt path? Did she have shoes? Was she barefoot? It’s details like this and like that that live on in the details of your day-to-day life, and this is how Oral Tradition survives if you think about those small details that everybody takes for granted but I think we as Filipinos have the opportunity to not take that for granted. We could go back generations and generations and generations if we imagined those simple quiet moments. It could be the way you walk was the same way an ancestor walked, with that long gait or hurried fashion or relaxed pace.

Returning to the loneliness of our smart phones and our computer screens, this pandemic forces us to turn away from Oral Tradition. It feels like we don’t even have a choice to interact. What I can tell you is that even in the opportunity of interacting through a phone call or having a socially distanced hour with a friend, makes all the difference. It contributes to the Oral Tradition. And so if you find a lonely Filipino out there post-pandemic who’s still stuck behind that screen or behind their smart phone, I would suggest reaching out to them and making sure that you’re able to rebuild community, that we’re able to exist in a physical space together where we share stories, laughter, inside jokes, food, music, dancing. I think it all comes down to looking out for each other. I think one of the things about the barangay lifestyle in the Motherland that follows us wherever we are in the Diaspora is that we always find each other and build community. It could be the tiniest community if there’s only one other Filipino family in town, but even if there isn’t, we tend to find a person or group that we can be part of, and share experiences together.

So my solution for battling against the Jordan Clarks of the world, is to build community outside of the cyberworld. Our ancestors existed without computers. They existed without smartphones. They existed without electricity. They existed without running water. With everything that we have today that is so accessible and instantly gratifying, there’s still loneliness, and so the building of community in physical spaces, is what defeats the Jordan Clarks where they can’t touch us because we have community where it’s just our space. And this is not to say that we don’t allow allies or other individuals of color into our circle. I’m not saying to be exclusive. No, that’s not the point. But it’s that our community creates a magic that our ancestors had, and with that magic we can actually join forces with other communities of color that have their own shaman ancestral traditions to defeat white supremacists in the world.

There are still indigenous Babaylan in the Motherland. That is proof that our magic survived despite the nearly 400 years of colonization where they were threatened with eradication. But we were able to survive and still thrive. And that is a powerful thing.

So booting Jordan Clark out of our space is actually a really simple solution. It’s the gathering of community. And as we saw, he could not provide one picture where he was part of our community. For someone who has 80k fake followers, who has apparently been in our space for nearly 20 years, he’s got nothing to show for it except hiding behind a screen, which I’m sure is really lonely and isolating.

Community doesn’t have to be 25 people. Community can just be you and another person. That is a powerful thing to have a connection with someone outside of yourself. How simple that the ancestors gave us this gift of community even in the most intimate ways. And I love that. And I’m pretty sure you love it too.

Our ancestors were agrarian. They thrived off the earth. They protected the earth. They valued oceans and streams and rivers and trees and fresh air. They were not behind computers. They didn’t have smartphones. In order to boot the Jordan Clarks from our world, means to unplug sometimes. Go get some fresh with that friend. Talk stories. Laugh. I think with a lot of us being able to be fully vaccinated, some of us can venture out safely with that one other person.

We have been stuck behind screens for so long. But the pandemic will end, and we will be prepared on how we come together in community again. Jordan Clark only exists behind a screen. We saw white supremacists storm the capital in January, but we know we can also create spaces away from them, spaces where they can’t infiltrate as we share spaces of joy together, and in sharing that space, our Oral Tradition thrives. You don’t need to look on the internet. Granted, the internet can be a great place to meet people, but remember, interaction can’t be limited to that screen and ultimately must lead you to actually sharing physical space for joy and for allowing the Oral Tradition to thrive.

Also, if you’re an academic or just someone curious about your history, remember to connect to someone in your Filipino community whether it is actually a blood relative or a friend who can share stories with you. And I don’t mean an online friend. I mean a friend that you actually spend time with and talk with, voice to voice, not text to text.

There are so many times when I’ve had Pinay friends whose Lolas felt like my Lola. My Lolas have joined the ancestors, so when I see friends who are fortunate to still have their Lola, there’s just a natural affinity there and it’s not anything you can explain to someone outside of being Filipino. It’s a unique, indescribable feeling.

White supremacists have nowhere to hide if we can see them, know them, know what they look like, know what kind of clothes they choose to wear.

Honestly, I’m not worried about what is floating in Jordan Clark’s social media stratosphere because I know my life exists outside of his cyberworld.

Bea and I know life exists outside of the cyberworld. And when the pandemic coast is clear, Bea and I are so ready to hang out, grab a boba, go kayaking, and laugh and laugh and laugh. And between us, we’ll share stories about our families, where her Lola will feel like my Lola, and my Lola will feel like hers.

Much love and light, always. May the ritual and magic of our Babaylan ancestors always give us strength and always lead us Home.

Maraming salamat. Agyamanak unay. Salamat kaayo. Thank you so much. Thank you so much for listening.

***

Related articles for cross-reference

*“Two Manananggal Discuss Dinner Plans” previously appeared as “Two Aswang Discuss Dinner Plans,” published in Northridge Review, Issue No. 42.1, 2018

Categories Commentary, Creative Nonfiction, PoetryTags , , , , , , , , ,

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