By Jose Ma, Montelibano
What a first few days in New York this has been!
Doing my regular rounds in the United States in a continuing journey of discovery and engagement remains simply exciting in many ways. Hours after arriving New York, I found myself meeting Filipino-Americans of two generations. five couples in their 50’s and 60’s, and three young Filipino-Americans. If I had not been experiencing it so consistently in my travels across America these last few years, it would be strange to be with patriots for our motherland when they are already part of another country.
New York City was bracing for Hurricane Irene. The hurricane was causing not only deep concern but virtual panic for many who wiped out the supply of generators and flashlights. People were buying cartons of bottled water, too, and stacking food. Yet, in that shop for costume rentals where the owners played host for the meeting and, of course, provided food as well, there was no panic, not even unusual interest for the coming typhoon. Instead, there only was a thirst for an active and productive connection to their race and motherland.
These American-based patriots of their motherland across the Pacific gathered to hear the latest news about the Philippines, especially on the cause nation-building, the issues of poverty and corruption. But they were not griping about the mess afflicting the Filipino people; instead, they just wanted to get guidance or affirmation about the solutions they had in mind. Around that long table, it was not dissonance that colored the many and different ideas being brought forth and discussed. Rather, it was a common desire to help the Filipino and build a future full of hope,
The participants of the gathering were leaders of Gawad Kalinga and advocates who belonged to different organizations. Yet, it was less the advocacy of each one that was the primary concern but how several groups could converge in activities and share messages that directly contributed to the well being of the poor in the Philippines. The individuals present committed to pursue a direction of convergence and alliance-building for Filipino-Americans. The meeting was so intense that it did not end until almost midnight and capped by a meal in a 24-hour Korean restaurant.
The next day, New York was in a more agitated state with Hurricane Irene only a day before hitting land in North Carolina and two days before confronting New York and New Jersey. Advisories were sent out to alert residents that mass transport systems would be shut down. It was educational for me to see how a first world country and superpower was behaving to prepare their psyches and homes for the coming of the typhoon. I kept thinking of the Philippines and how we prepare for our own hurricanes. It upset me deeply to see the great difference between the powerful and the third world, a difference that consistently can be measured by the number killed.
Again, though, I had to set aside that mental comparison that generated such an emotional response from me. I was preoccupied with what I could speak about in a prayer meeting later that evening of a community that has been so supportive of the work of Gawad Kalinga. Also, I kept thinking of a planned trip to Maryland the next day when the hurricane was expected to hit that state. Cancelling the four-hour drive was logical and seemed like the safe thing to do in the middle of a hurricane, but the prospect of not meeting more leaders and advocates of a noble work was not easy to accept.
I was so grateful for the opportunity to thank the Bukas Loob sa Dios (BLD) community of New Jersey. The generosity of many have built several homes and villages for the poor, and many of their fellow members in the Philippines have actually taken on the challenge of handholding the beneficiaries towards a new and productive perspective of community living. And the enthusiasm of their coordinators assigned to work with Gawad Kalinga produced another midnight meal and lively discussions.
When I finally retired for the night at 3 am, I knew I would leave for Maryland later that morning. The report that Hurricane Irene was less strong at category 2 instead of category 3 made me confident that the typhoon was on a weakening trajectory and would be less of a danger during our travel and during our stay in Maryland. We did decide to brave the storm and were on the road before noon, hitting our destination in less than 6 hours following a leisurely pace. There were no hurricane conditions all throughout, and again only the least of damage all throughout the night in Maryland. The joy and excitement of being with the Maryland leaders of a common global work completely erased the hurricane from my attention – also because it was not strong enough to do so.
I am now in New Jersey from Maryland and another dinner last night in Staten Island. Tomorrow, I leave for California and more road tours. I would be tired and discouraged if I do not see affirmation and growth at every turn, everywhere. In my first meeting, when the issue of the Spratlys came up, two young Filipino-Americans said they were willing to go to a motherland they had not been born in, then fight and die if they have to.
Earlier this noon, another young Filipino-American sought me out to tell me that he would like to go home to the native country of his parents, work for Gawad Kalinga and nation-building, go to night school to be a lawyer, and stay all his life in the Philippines if he could find an opportunity to do so. I asked him why. He said, “I am Filipino.”
“There is always a philosophy for lack of courage.” Albert Camus