detail from Labels for Hair Ribbons by Manuel Ocampo a delectable selection of oriental appetizers
Wednesday, June 19, 2002

: . Retail Therapy:

Salubong (1994) by Sanggawa

I've spent close to a week's wages on books in the past few days. If the number of books I buy is inversely related to my sense of well being then I should be on the verge of a nervous breakdown right now. Mind you these are books I do not have to read and do not have time to read. (I don't even want to think about the books I do have to read but also do not have time to read.) Most of them are bound to gather dust on my bookshelves or to be lost in the pile on my nightstand--the very sight of which is often responsible for my many restless nights and cranky mornings. The worst part of being a student again, as I am now, is having to endure the agony of lousy, part-time or temporary jobs to pay the bills and to pay for the little pleasures so necessary for staving off boredom, frustration, or outright madness. But my current job...ah! my current job. Is that phrase even grammatically correct, "my current job"? Or should it be "my job at present"? Anyway, a few snippets of conversation (over)heard at my workplace within the span of a week:
    They're never gonna catch him, they all look alike...
    He's unusual for an Oriental...
    What's your name?...Yeah?...You look like Jackie Chan man!
    What are their names? Abdul something? I think we might be harboring terrorists here... Yeah, and many of them are also gay...
    You know, they don't like being called Oriental now. Now they want to be called Asian...
    I think the guy across from me is a faggot.
    Where are you from? Where are you from? Where are you from?

Where am I from? My friend S. tells me that whenever she feels alienated in her mostly white workplace or in the mostly white Upper East Side dinner parties she's obliged to attend and where the only other person of color is the Filipina maid (who can often be found crying in the kitchen), she treats herself to a meal at a certain Filipino restaurant in Woodside, Queens (known for its comfortingly atrocious service) to feel centered again. In a world where everything is for sale, there's nothing like a little nationalist consumption to reassert one's battered sense of self. What about my own form of retail therapy? I've long abandoned my hobby of collecting Filipiniana since it has become too expensive to keep up. Besides, I've grown uneasy about what is in essence a fetishistic nationalism. It's as if the only relationship I have with a country I have never set foot in for 12 years is to treat it as an object of knowledge from a privileged position an ocean away. It's the most cowardly act of social engagement. So although once a year I do try to check out most of the US-based online Filipino booksellers for new titles, I seldom buy anything; the fun is in the search itself not in any act of possession. This week however, apart from the other books I've bought (books I need to read--see The Pile On My Nightstand) mostly dealing with globalization and service sector jobs, I also bought more than a few Philippine-related items from all over the map: Singapore, Honolulu, Los Angeles, Chicago, Lexington. They include:

To Suffer Thy Comrades by Robert Francis Garcia
Knowing America's Colony: A Hundred Years from the Philippine War by Reynaldo C. Ileto
Faith + the City: A Survey of Contemporary Filipino Art edited by Emmanuel Torres
Meaning & History: The Rizal Lectures by Ambeth Ocampo
Bones Of Contention: The Bonifacio Lectures by Ambeth Ocampo
The Centennial Countdown by Ambeth Ocampo
Simbahan: Church Art in Colonial Philippines 1565-1898 by Jose T. Regalado
Danger and Beauty by Jessica Hagedorn
Looking For The Prehispanic Filipino by William Henry Scott
Tagalog Poetry 1570-1898: Tradition and Influences in its Development by Bienvenido Lumbera
An Introduction to Philippine History by Jose S. Arcilla S.J.
Glances: Prehistory of the Philippines by Jesus T. Peralta
Theater in Society Society in Theater: Social History of a Cebuano Village, 1840-1940 by Resil B. Mojares
Philippine Picture Postcards 1900-1920 by Jonathan Best
Cocina Sulipena: Culinary Gems From Old Pampanga by Gene Gonzalez
The Coconut Cookery Of Bicol by Honesto C. General

It's sad that I have to consume myself into "centeredness." Some buy shoes, others buy CD's. I buy...well, I buy. Ah, to be young, un-gifted, and bourgeois!

By the way, my friend S. works for The New York Women's Foundation. It provides grants to organizations that assist under-privileged women and girls of all colors. If you are a frequent Amazon shopper, why not access Amazon via the Foundation's site? By doing so, Amazon will donate up to 10% of the amount you spend to the Foundation. That should help assuage some of your buyer's remorse.

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