FROM SEE TO SEA: AN ISLANDER'S DIVERSION
published in milk journal & snapdragon: journal for healing (2017)
“X who does not know how to look back at where
X came from will never get to X destination.”
― José Rizal
PART I: Sea
Between back and forth, I’m always looking behind.
(Confession: I have a small tattoo of a sailor eye on my left butt cheek, a memory mark of non-sober, sophomoric decision-making. Nevertheless, I regularly introduce it as ‘my third eye looking out for my ass.’)
Perhaps I do not know how to proceed because the past lacks home’s coherency, constantly forcing my doors of perception to probe through distant peek holes without a key. The only pocket souvenir I keep sings in my blood and speaks in my words ― the ‘colonizer’s tongue,’ they say, flickering in-and-out as shadowed consciousness. Perhaps the future’s golden code is in the mouth, words swallowed whole.
Born to parents from island provinces of central Philippines, the first gift of language I acquired (Spanish-saturated Bisayan Malay) already arrived with evidence of imperial corruption. Which is not to say that it nor I is a singular uteri utterance, but a string of letters and chromosomes enfolded in the body of a global storybook. I followed the flow of speech’s power, despite teethed resistance. At the age of three, I developed fluent command of English; at the age of five, wearing a Pocahontas shirt, I migrated with my family to another ex-colonized Spanish territory, to Florida of the continental Americas.
(Confession: My childhood nickname means ‘little crab,’ a mark of my bicuspid bite and unruly behavior to urban street kids as a wild playmate. But stuck in American suburbs, surrounded by do-not-step-on-the-grass signs of gated communities, I sealed my lips shut.)
On the subject of border identities and “How to Tame a Wild Tongue,” Gloria Anzaldúa perfectly reiterates the colonial logic of castration ― just cut it off. And I did just this. I stopped speaking Cebuano islander slang and adopted proper colonizer’s talk from public school teachers, who would spit instructions through a Southern drawl. Day to day, I grew increasingly desensitized to the strict ritual of cultural erasure.
Inevitably, my play of identity became stiff like a blackboard. A distance to self spanned through strict lines. Only through the curvature of textual characters and upturned surfaces of page books could I move, map my vast imagination. I grew up inside the library reading stories from around the planet. I loved myths, legends, historical fictions, remnants of human footprints in recorded rumination. But in this way, I also caved myself in a corner, kept the length of a tall tale between my classmates and me.
(Confession: All my favorite writers have fallen dead; I have long daydreamed making love to their corpses in canon’s grave. I interpret this childhood fantasy as evidence of how disconnected I became to the contemporary landscape of living minds, disembodied.)
My heritage, my hermitage is perhaps derived from familial origins on a small island in the center of the central Visayan Sea. Islanders have a notorious impulse for the internalization of belonging. On our island, we have five unique ways of saying the word ‘to know,’ because the unknown is an ontological otherworld beyond the realm of human word. But now, I’m an outsider from there too. After years of enculturation on American continental bedrock, I have transformed into an alien from ‘home.’
(Confession: On an island where I go back many generations on both sides of bloodline, residents have gossiped about me as either a rich Japanese tourist or a spoiled American princess. No matter where I go, my skin shines exotic ‘other,’ glossed over by ignorance.)
Perhaps it is true that I am more of an insider to American society than the small island community from which I got born and estranged. Wired local in the late 90’s post-mall dot.com bubble of dredged swampland suburbs and mega myspace metropolises. Even more, having studied within the white walls of Ivy League towers, I am part of the elite educated class that for centuries all too easily erases how we grew up immigrant, isolated and impoverished. Then again, I’ve always challenged this totalizing trajectory of institutionalized identity. No matter what degrees of separation I accumulated, I never wanted to be consumed by bodies of authority.
In university, I focused on the subject of anthropology, a discipline of knowledge formulated, financed and legitimized by colonial regimes of control. As I peered into the opposite side of the world —the so-called ‘middle east,’ the mirror other of the western gaze —a sentiment of solidarity aroused against its projected exoticism. As I learned about world histories through imperial programming, I realized how deeply buried my uprooted condition lied under structures of power. As my understanding of humanity’s inequalities evolved, in proportionately did I resist divisions through underground research.
(Confession: In college, I wrote seminar papers and presentations about the anal jokes in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, the feedback sounds of women’s orgasms, the informatics industry of internet pornography, the ‘crazy’ Kikiyu uprising of Kenya, the 1968 student protests of Columbia University and Harlem, etc. —I ‘got off’ the high horse of academia by challenging the curriculum’s limits.)
After falling in love with a globetrotting traveler, a classical post-college trip of hitchhiking the European peninsula, and a regretful but legally necessary return to the United States, I still did not find a semblance of home’s shell until I turned south of the border —in Las Sierras del Sur, Mexico. From its fruits, foods, fiestas and cultural atmosphere of Catholicism syncretized with indigenous spirituality and American influence, it felt as if I flew ‘home,’ from Philippines to Mexico. Despite estrangement in fluent expression and suspension at face value as foreigner, there I gravitated and tuned into a familiar sense of dis/connection.
Thankfully, my wanderings and writings have kept me grounded inside a contiguous identity of text-techno-terrestrial shape-shifter. All the while, I have refused to participate in popular social networking algorithms, becoming a floating nomad in a digital see of selfies. Inverted virtual inside out, I continued moving, morphing, unearthing roots, seeking re-routed diversions toward cumming truths.
PART II: SEE
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