MANILA, MAY 9, 2007 (STAR) HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes - I am on my nth concert tour of North America with the APO. As usual, it means that before and in between shows, we go out to meet and mingle with a great number of our kababayans. We do this to let them know we are in town and hopefully convince them to go watch our concerts.

After so many years of touring, I have acquired a few observations about our overseas kababayans, at least in North America, Australia and a few other parts. Some are obvious and trivial and some a little more profound. Here are some of them:

1. Being in showbiz, APO has considerable influence and effect on Pinoys abroad. It’s not just the fact that when an artista, which includes almost any form of celebrity — singers, actors, models, TV personalities (except perhaps politicians) — enters a room, there is some sort of commotion, from mild to electric, that occurs. Showbiz is a link to what preoccupied them at home and it continues be so here. Attending my first Philippine Independence social event in Sydney last year, my presence was acknowledged in the same breath as the Philippine Consul General and the Speaker of the Parliament of New South Wales! I thought that was a gas!

2. Despite the prevalence of digital cameras now, where one can see instantaneously what a newly shot picture looks like, Filipinos believe in taking an extra safety shot or two… or three. It must still be the effect of that Kodak campaign years ago which urged everyone to take an extra shot "para sigurado." Nope. Digital has not made this aspect of our work easier. On the contrary, everyone with a cell phone or camera has become paparazzi. Ha ha.

3. Depending on who you talk to, the Philippines, in its present state, can seem infinitely enchanting or horrible from a distance of a few thousand miles. Some will trash it, and some will speak of it in romanticized terms. But the longer a person has lived abroad, the more idyllic his memories are of how things were. Old timers, especially those who have not visited in 25 years or more, still harbor memories of a Philippines that is pre-McDonald’s, traffic free, and where one could have a good time for 20 pesos.

4. People always ask you how it is back home, and they like to talk about politics. I suspect it has to do with their feeling affirmed about their decision to leave when they did. While they are saddened when they hear of bad news back home and how the situation has worsened, they feel better about having chosen to leave and stake their future where they are now.

5. Every Filipino tries to make a personal connection with every kababayan they talk to. With us, it could be a past concert they watched, or a common friend, or a friend’s friend, a school we both attended, a distant relative or even the province we both come from. It does not matter how remote the connection is, even if it is something like, "we walked together on EDSA." Somehow, we just feel better belonging to tribong Pinoy.

6. This may be so self-evident, it shouldn’t even be mentioned, but it just has to be said that Filipinos, especially our kababayans abroad, invariably go the extra mile in expressing their hospitality. It is a declaration of loyalty that says they have not forgotten or abandoned their being Pinoy. And the generosity — todo-bigay — can be overwhelming. The sumptuous Filipino breakfasts complete with danggit, tocino, tapa, pusit, tuyo, atbp., the volunteers who take a day off from work to drive us around and see the sights, and the little pasalubongs that are given with such sincerity and heart simply bowl us over. I just love the way we are!

7. The big move of leaving home was, they say, "for the children," and some professionals willingly took a step down career-wise and do menial tasks for this cause. At the same time, almost all Pinoys we meet worry about how little of the Filipino values their children will probably retain as they grow up in their adopted country. It is not unusual to hear the kids behave like their white counterparts, speaking with a strong Anglo twang and still making mano to their parents.

8. Pinoy kids who were born overseas usually grow up having no interest in the country and culture of their parents. However, those who discover the country by going home for a visit are fascinated to find that the Philippines is a place where many things that are not possible in their adopted country can and do happen. One can speed on the highway and not get a ticket, or go to a bar and not have to present an ID, are examples. My nephew who grew up in California was so fascinated with the vendors in traffic who walk around barefoot and sell different kinds of stuff. He thought it was the coolest thing. An in-law of mine saw a man carrying a bed and selling it right on the street. He turned to me chuckling in utter bewilderment and said, "We go to a department store for that."

9. I still have to find a place where there is agreement among Pinoys on whether or not there is discrimination in the new land they have settled in. It all depends on who you are talking to. One of the most stunning observations I heard was from a very successful engineer in Sydney. My friend Rod Santos says that when dealing with his all-white, upper- management colleagues, all it takes is palakasan ng boses. He pointed out that he felt more discriminated against in the Philippines when, as a poor struggling student who sidelined as a Luneta photographer, he was not allowed to enter Manila Hotel. What he experienced back home was economic discrimination, he says. In hindsight, he asserts: "There is discrimination kung papayag ka."

10. I observed that in North America, a great majority of Filipinos can be fiercely loyal to their adopted country. They will not bash the country that has given them the opportunity to begin a new life even if the rest of the world seems to have a different point of view regarding certain issues such as the Iraq war, or global warming. While many Filipinos back home (and in Canada) seem to be more sympathetic to what the Democratic party in the US stands for, many of our kababayan in the US are flag-waving Republicans (except perhaps those in New York and California).

11. There is such a thing as Pinoy laughter. I remember being in a hotel in Japan and walking through the corridor on my way to my room when I heard loud laughter coming out of a room. I just knew I was hearing Filipino laughter. I knocked on the door, and sure enough, there was a gaggle of Pinays having a good time laughing their heads off!

12. Regionalism rules. Nick Joaquin calls it our "heritage of smallness." It is hardly surprising to see, say, three Ilocano, four Ilonggo and seven Tagalog associations all competing for recognition and official status in one community. Some of the organizations are pitifully small, with just enough members for everyone to become an officer. I can’t see why we don’t have just one big umbrella organization instead of the regional, provincial, barangay splinter groups proliferating now. Once, we attended a basketball tournament between Batangueños and Caviteños and within five minutes, there was a full-scale brawl going on inside the court and out. It only came to an end when the police came and many kababayans were seen scampering away because they were illegal aliens.

13. Almost all overseas Pinoys say that while they live a good life abroad, it can at times be lonely. There is a longing to go home, especially during the winter months when Christmas comes into full swing back home. While it may be beset with problems that exasperate many of its citizens, including our overseas kababayans, the Philippines is still, in their view, a "happy place."

After all, there is where the family, barkada, the good old days, the "vices," the simple easygoing life are enjoyed within the relaxed dimensions of "Filipino time." We don’t have to tiptoe quietly, or put on an accent, or assume any kind of stance to fit in. In the Philippines, we are in our own universe. We don’t even have to speak English. We just go with the flow.

Living in an adopted land where you have to do everything yourself because no one else will can be very stressful. But in the Philippines, there is not much you have to do. You can simply just be who you are! How cool is that?

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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