Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Maria Clara and Juan Tamad

Category: [Filipino Soul]

Where I Am from is a poem by the Filipina Maria Lim, which describes the Pinoy soul shockingly well. With a sense of bitter, melancholic and superb humor that can only be found in cultures that almost lost their identity by a long-standing foreign oppression or by cultural genocide. Like the Czechs and the Jews. That the poem is written in English is an omen. It reminds me so much of Der brave Soldat Schwejk.

Photo (click to enlarge): a Filipino fish eagle captured in the Filipino Eagle Conservation Center near mount Apo, Southern Mindanao.

Where I Am From


And I answer: from the Philippines
7,000 and more islands scattered over the Pacific
like the brown-green clusters of carabao turd.

48,000,000 people shouting at each other
over the barriers of Sierra Madre and the Celebes Sea,
through the din of rice sparrows and reconnaissance planes.


Native with Chinese eyes and Malayan skin
Castillian airs and made-in-the-U.S.A. minds,
we cross ourselves in the pit before the cockfight.

Oh, we are slow, how slow we are.
We fall asleep in the shade of palm trees.
Our hoes rust in the fields.
The tuba rushes to our brains from our bellies.
The women changed our coconut-fermented dreams:
Maria Clara has goat milk skin, Laguna De Bay eyes and teeth.
Her breasts swell fuller than the upo gourds.


Oh! How slow are we still to waking.
Juan Tamad took 400 years
he finally got rid of the european devil.
With a stone-sharpened bolo, but blinded by the stars and stripes
poor Juan embraced the six-feet Santa Claus.

We still dream of pure White Christmas
in our land of constant summer and lent.
Beating our breasts , re-enacting
the bleeding Passion of Christ,
beating down the angry spirits of our past,
our bare feet turning and turning the barrening earth.

Oh! But we are quick to change from one master to another
ready to scrape and smile,
even to speak in the conqueror’s tongue.
Buenos Dias! Hi ya’ all! Konnichi wa!

We are the poor Filipinos.
Richly blessed malarial squatters.
Malacaňang Palace puppets and inflatable peso bills,
how can God not be kind to us?
Surely he sees our lifted faces,
wet with the manna
of monsoon rain.

©Maria Fatima Lim





Glossary




Cockfight: extremely popular in the Philippines since it involves thrills, a colorful show, blood, and a lot of animated betting.
Tuba: cheap home-made coconut wine, especially drunk in the countryside and by the poor.
Maria Clara: archetype for the Filipina.
Juan Tamad: archetype for the "lazy" (as described by the Spanish conquerers) Filipino.
Bolo: a knife carried by the poor farmers to remove shrubs and weeds on the fields.
48,000,000 people: the poem was written two decades ago. The population has almost doubled since then.

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