Alex Maskara

Thoughts, Stories, Imagination of Filipino American Alex Maskara

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Four Students

Four Students

Four Students

Barrio Tales


Migratory Bird (circa 2005)

Migratory Bird *(circe 2005)

You are not probably interested with his story, the story of Miguel that is. It is not full of laughter or philosophy or life-altering lessons. It is written in poor English, broken English like his heart. You know what a broken heart is. It is weeping with blood. And the blood goes to the brain and the brain becomes crazy. All that sad blood is dirty. He gets rid of it by drinking. Wine will remove dirt from his brain. Wine will remove everything from his brain. Memory and reality will temporarily go away.

Sometimes it is difficult to understand his English, but don't worry, you'll get it, it will not hurt you if you keep hearing him repeating himself, you understand? His English is learned from his fellow orange pickers in the groves, picked up from hookers and pimps, from bars serving cerveza negra and Taco Bell. It is mixed with adoring the Lord Jesus Christ. And calling home using a prepaid phone card. Hola, my life is fine, Teresita.

Miguel is standing inside a phone booth by the side of the road, dressed like a farmer ready to cultivate the entire continent. For real you say? Yeah, for real. He is holding the receiver against his ear, unmindful of the cars passing by whose drivers are either unaware of his existence or aware of his non-existence. Ay caramba!

He once came to this country well dressed with good manners and a lot of confidence. Now he is reduced into this: wearing clothes bought from Salvation Army. Who really wants to see him in the USA dressed as handsomely as he used to be in the old country? Who wants to see him at all, standing by the roadside looking at every driver, eyes asking, "Do you have a job for me?”

And all the odd jobs he does - less than minimum wage - lifting, pushing, shoveling, cultivating, digging, planting, cementing, cleaning, washing - what else is left? Every kind of labor he does. Everything except what he did professionally in his country.

He was an Accountant back home. But jobs back home aren't worth anything.

You see, you can have some decent things in your home country - education, love, romance, respect, dignity, honor, history, friendships - but without money, all fall to pieces. He has no home here, no family, he doesn't even understand every English word spoken. But that doesn't matter because he's got muscles, quietness, servitude that make him won't react even if poked, spat at, cussed at, treated like shit, which at the end, for real, at the end, earns him dinero. Yeah dolares for real. Money, that's what's important. Everything else can wait, you know, it doesn't matter how he is treated in Gringo-land. Who cares about all that when he earns dinero, solamente dinero? At least, he can feed himself and his family.

Miguel replaces the receiver back on the hook. He turns his eyes at the long winding road that is kept clean. Thanks to workers like him, America is very very beautiful.

Everyday, cada dia, he is learning more about the Gringo system. And he can't help but notice how hard work is awarded here. There is no low-class job here as long as you pay taxes(but he is still an illegal) and commit no public scandal and crime(so far). In Gringo-land, you can do your business and no one would bother you. So long as you follow the rules. So he will be here - weeks, months, years, even for eternity - until he becomes one of the Gringos. A Gringo who pays taxes. A Gringo treated as equal.

Ah, this plastic card, this phone card will someday turn into a real American Express card. Or Visa. Or Discover. Or Mastercard. How can he get there from here?

Miguel sits by the side of the road, mapping his plot. He can marry a Gringa. Or, he can be lucky and be given a 'legal pardon' for a politician's political points. He can study in an American school and become a Nurse like Filipinos. He can start a landscaping business and apply for a 'business visa'. He can...oh why does it all sound so near to impossible?

Today, he can't even find anybody to hire him. But is this what life is for him? Born in a poor country, gravitating toward a promising country. Will life be like this forever? Scheming, plotting, planning on a goal as simple as becoming another Gringo? He is a migratory bird, that's all he is. He flies to where abundance is, and if the abundance is permanent, he tries to become one of the native birds.

How long will he acquire the plumage of the local birds, to fly like them, live like them, lay eggs like them? Ah, these things can wait. All the other migratory birds have flown away, even they start parting in their migratory ways. Schools of migratory birds no longer exist, They were split into individuals just going around now in limbo, locating a place each thinks is appropriate for him.

And he chose this Gringo-land, but how does he start?
2024-04-12 04:17:30


Acacia: Barrio Tale (written by Alex Maskara 2000)

Any barrio folk who had left for decades would probably think the way I do think tonight: Having been absent for nearly twenty years, and knowing I'd never see at least half the folks I knew last alive when I come back, what is left is only the memory the barrio had left me. With one caveat: Since I'm getting old, my memory is no longer as sharp as it was. The vivid pictures I now remember acquire a watercolor-like appearance, they become more or fewer postcards. That's probably the reason why the Japanese filmmaker Kurosawa made so many beautiful Japanese films. He saw Japan in the deepest reaches of his brain. I may not be able to see the barrio the way he saw Japan in films, but I see something in it alright. And it's always beautiful and sad, the way life and the past had always been for me.

I lie in bed thinking of the people who owned the houses I passed on my way home. Indang Odelia, dead. Apung Gelia, dead. Indang Lucresia, dead. Indang Marinela, dead. Apung Anting-ting, dead. And so forth and so on. There is no point mentioning them all. What's important is how we spent our time in the barrio together when being old and dead were the least of our concerns. I am surprised at how fast time would erase us all. Memory is the only lingering proof we were once living and moving souls on the face of the earth.

I really don't want to think morbid thoughts. But as I remember it, my past in the barrio was far from glorious and happy. My barrio days were full of poverty and struggles, being mocked and bullied for the same reasons. Maybe you'd say, why not think of the barrio at present? Yes, but, the present in my barrio would just get me more depressed. The last time I visited, it was totally congested. Majority of the people living there I hardly knew. The ones I knew were either senile or dead. My contemporaries were either abroad or too proud to see me. Even now they regard my good fortunes as mere luck.

That's probably the truth. Even I myself cannot win everything. I can't live perfectly in two different places. I'm the floating guy: I live somewhere between two continents. Between two cultures. Amidst so many differences in attitudes and culture. So many racial undertones. So, really, I can't win anything. My barrio treats me no different from how I got treated when I was young and my adopted country would always think of me as the perennial stranger, the alien in the midst. There is nothing stable in this world. There is nothing fixed. Changes are inevitable. That being the case, I just rely on my memory.

My memory focuses on something permanent in my barrio: the acacia tree standing right beside the derelict Beauty Parlor of Coca where jeepneys load and unload passengers. Coca lured men into her den, promising them love and sex while she stood beside the acacia tree. She was a has-been prostitute in Gabella, the only whore house in the barrio. Men would no longer come to her, it was rumored she was infected with all kinds of sexually transmitted diseases.

Ha! But I'm in no mood to talk about Coca right now. I want to talk about the acacia tree.

The tree - so old, very very old, now stands with all its trunk burnt to leave a hollow space in its stead. Like a disemboweled body. What is now left is a circle of bark, and wonder of all wonders, the bark still keeps the tree alive as it bears new leaves year out. Whoever burned the tree must be dead by now, the acacia tree has outlived even its murderers. It has outlived all wars, all fads, all heroism, all sins, all gossips, all - everything. And with my limited existence on this earth, I too will be outlived by this tree. It's an immortal tree. It's the very barrio itself.

My Grandfather warned me about the Kapre residing by the acacia tree. Kapre's silhouette - half horse/half man can be found sitting at night on top of the tree when there's a full moon. Smoke rises out of his tobacco and with a guttural voice asking: And where have you been? Where are you going?

When my Grandfather was still young, he was asked the same questions by the Kapre. He found himself three barrios away from his house in the middle of the night without knowing how. He had to knock on people's doors to ask how to find his way home. "Because," he whispered to my ears. "The Kapre was offended when I did not ask his permission as I passed by his tree. He made me lose my way."

If that happens to you, and the Kapre muddles your brain, all you need is to turn your shirt inside-out, that's the antidote to his power.

Many nights I'd sit by the window that provided me a view of the acacia and stare and stare at its thick head - many nights I found the Kapre atop the tree, without his cigar of course. And I'd wonder how he could confuse people. I was never permitted by my Mother to get near the tree, not because of the Kapre but because of Coca's dubious reputation. No one wanted anybody to get close to her Beauty Parlor, especially at night. People hated her past and no matter how much change she had done to herself, she was ostracized. That's how cruel the barrio folk could be at times. Coca eventually left for another island never to return.

It was a beautiful life then. People competed in terms of the cleanliness of houses, colorful gardens, and the design of curtains. Dogs slept in the afternoons too lazy to even stir when a stranger visited. Life was so satisfying the only time they'd charge you of a crime is when you skipped the Sunday mass. No one fought over anything else.

It is never known when the Kapre left. But the people knew he went away when Coca's old Beauty Parlor was turned into a grocery store owned by a woman whose husband left for Saudi Arabia and became suddenly rich.

In one day, everybody wondered about going abroad and how much money they could make working abroad. The competition shifted from cleaner houses / beautiful gardens/curtains to how fast someone could work in Saudi Arabia or Japan or the US. Everyone in the barrio began contemplating how life abroad would be, how much the dollar-peso conversion was, what businesses Dollars can build up in the barrio. So the barrio folk left out in droves - they left thinking that working abroad was just temporary. All they needed was to earn a few dollars and come back with sufficient capital for small businesses. Some left so they could put their children through school and some left for simple competition - they did not want to be left out.

Families were divided. Fathers disappeared. Mothers acted like Fathers. Children had so much money they developed vices. They were put through schools but they studied half-heartedly, they could not see the importance of learning and eventually earning a living because, look, someone was providing them money and food from abroad. Why study hard? Why work hard? And everywhere, people were building stores. People were buying jeepneys. Some tricycles. They gutted their houses and replaced them with bungalows. They tore out their gardens and paved their backyards to park their vehicles. They cut down trees to give space for their stores.

That's the reason why the acacia tree got burned. A stupid nugget head tried to get rid of it to build a sari-sari store but it didn't work out. The acacia survived but the Kapre left.

No one should ever let the Kapre go because in leaving, as the superstition said in the old days, everyone will get confused and memory will vanish.

When I go home and meet the barrio folk, I don't remember having met the majority of them in the past. It is said they came from other parts of the country and the locals, except for a few, are no longer living here. When I introduce myself, no one in the barrio seems to remember me - my name belongs to someone they heard a long time ago. What the people are preoccupied with are means and ways to leave the barrio. They train for jobs that will bring them abroad as Nurses, nannies, caregivers, domestics, laborers, ship workers, and even prostitutes. They encourage more strangers to live in this barrio to increase the number of consumers. They are now even contemplating calling on Congress to approve the conversion of the barrio into a city.

I was one of those who left to work abroad twenty years ago.

And because of that, maybe I was saved from the curse of forgetfulness that I still remember sometimes.

At night I turn my shirt inside-out and when the moon is full I get into the hollow center of the acacia tree. In that space, I try to remember.

But even the acacia's walls have been cracking, ready to disappear. Forever.
2022-03-15 23:32:05

Migratory Bird (circa 2005)


Bulosan Syndrome


Last of the Balugas