detail from Labels for Hair Ribbons by Manuel Ocampo a delectable selection of oriental appetizers
Friday, April 20, 2001


: . Elaine Kim, who teaches in the Asian American Studies Department of UC Berkeley, may have been having a bad day when she wrote this, one of more uninspired references to pop culture to be found in an academic text. From the introduction to Philip Vera Cruz: A Personal History of Filipino Immigrants and the Farmworkers Movement:

In the recent Hollywood film The Sixth Sense, the young main character sees ghosts that are invisible to everyone else. It may be that we Americans are also surrounded by ghosts. Occasionally archeologists and construction companies unearth bones of Native people who inhabited this land, of nameless slaves, coolies, and peons whose unrecognized labor made America rich. How many people have lived, labored, and died without leaving any record of their existence, not even a scribbled trace?

Well, it isn’t that bad, really. It’s just like sooo ten years ago. Which goes to show that if someone of her stature can have a corny day, then so can I, goddamit.


: . Ambeth Ocampo, in a postscript to his two part piece on Filipino surnames and the Catalogo de Apellidos of 1849, offers us this fascinating bit of trivia:

Fr. V. Badillo of the Manila Observatory asked about Spanish religious names that are not found even in Spain like De los Reyes or De Jesus or De Dios. Father Badillo supplied me with information I had heard earlier from Anding Roces that unwanted offspring of Spanish settlers and Filipinas were given the surname De los Reyes (from the kings) if the father was a colonial bureaucrat or soldier in the service of the crown; De Dios or De Jesus if it was a friar’s child. Roces adds that if your surname is San Jose your ancestor was probably an orphan from Hospicio de San Jose. I have found no historical documentation for these assertions but they definitely make a good story.


: . Before we were granted our Philippine passports my sister and I along with my father were summoned by Filipino immigration officials to prove our Filipino-ness. We were preparing to leave for the US then and after several setbacks involving the American end of the immigration process, we were amused by this new, Filipino complication. It seemed that our last name—Ngaseo—didn’t have a Filipino ring to it. Were we Japanese perhaps? Or worse, maybe Vietnamese? The Filipino immigration official stared at my father’s face saying “Mukhang intsik kasi kayo eh, sir.” (This, of course, was not the first time we were mistaken for ‘Chinese.’ Nor was it the last.) Needless to say we passed our Filipino test, though not with flying colors. I’ve forgotten my father’s explanation though. Something about the processing or consumption of rice among the Ifugao. We were in the offices of the Department of Foreign Affairs which were located in, of all places, Imelda Marcos’ Film Center. While my father spoke to the immigration official I stared at the office windows nervously, afraid that the ghost stories involving the Film Center building were indeed true.

Two years before my father’s brother took us to La Trinidad in Benguet and there, among other Ngaseos I remember listening to a rambling discussion on our last name and its various meanings and pronunciations all over the Ilocos. The discussion, unfortunately, was in Ilocano, a language so alien to me, like the cackling of exotic birds, its no wonder I’ve never learned it. Unlike the 'Visayan' (whatever they call that variant of Cebuano spoken in Agusan in northern Mindanao) which I’ve eventually learned to understand (but not to speak) after prolonged exposure to 'secret' conversations between my mother and her relatives (“don’t worry, he doesn’t understand”), Ilocano wasn’t spoken much in our house.

My father’s brother, our Manong Andong, was a Philippine Scout and he fought the Japanese during The War. In the early ‘90’s he was granted a US visa and left for San Francisco where, it is said, he wrote a short history of our last name. He was, according to my father, ‘the family historian.’ He died a year or so later after he set foot in the US and his history, if he indeed wrote one, is now lost.


: . My cousin was trying to set me up with of her friends. He's a (gasp!) gay Republican. "He thinks you're cute," my cousin tells me. "Then he must not have taste," I tell her. "And did you say he has a Republican Beanie Baby on his desk?" I ask. She nods. I pretend to gag. "Then I don't think so." And that was that.

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