detail from Labels for Hair Ribbons by Manuel Ocampo a delectable selection of oriental appetizers
Tuesday, June 19, 2001

: . A passage from Carlos Bulosan’s ‘The Filipino Houseboy,’ wherein a white male Hollywood scriptwriter named Dunstan Peyton, acting on the advice of some friends, hires, well, a Filipino houseboy named Conrado ‘Conrad’ Bustamante. Years later, while ‘rummaging in his favorite bookshop,’ Dunstan Peyton discovers that his former houseboy has written several books, two of which having received favorable reviews. ‘Thrilled with envy,’ Dunstan Peyton recalls the days when Conrad Bustamante (with his unemployed cousin Danny, a former bartender, in tow) began working for him:

When Conrad came back Dunstan told him goodnight and went upstairs with the drink. It was an hour later when he heard the guitar from Conrad’s room. Then there was a violin. He listened to the duet. It was a song unknown to him, a very sad song, and it seemed far away. He was curious which one was playing what instrument. He went downstairs and knocked on Conrad’s door.
Conrad opened it. Danny was on the bed; he had the guitar. Conrad had the violin.
‘Are we bothering you, Mr. Peyton?’ Conrad asked Dunstan.
‘No Conrad,’ he said. ‘I was just curious which one was playing what instrument. Now I know. You are both very good.’
‘Will you sit down, sir?’ Danny said.
Dunstan sat down on the only chair in the room. ‘What were you playing?’ he asked Conrad.
‘It is a Philippine song, Mr. Peyton,’ Conrad answered. ‘It is called kundiman, or love song. A very sad song. Filipinos are a very sad people.’
‘I didn’t know that, Conrad. Why?’
‘They have never been free, that is why, Mr. Peyton.’
Then Dunstan noticed that Conrad’s voice had indeed become sad. His whole face changed, his eyes became luminous. And the sudden remembrance of their people had affected Danny, too. And Dunstan knew that he had to break the silence.

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