Monday, July 23, 2007


N.B. I am posting a journal entry I wrote back yet on July 8, 2004, a part of a collection which I collectively called "JULY JAUNTS."

July literally rocks! It opens with more than just a bang. It flashes, and shines, and glows as all of America celebrates its more than two hundred years of independence. Fireworks galore, as only Americans can put up, explode simultaneously in many cities of the United States on July 4, in a flurry of bursting lights and colors, accompanied by a flourish of bands, symphonies, and concerts star-studded by all available popular icons of the big entertainment center that is America. Hotels, casinos, beaches, restaurants, parks, bayside and seaside boardwalks, and just about any available temporary refuge away from home, work, and worries are booked solid and filled to overflowing.

I must say I had been part of the crowds that clogged the freeways, and added to the mountains of trash created by those who took advantage of the long week-end getaway.

With my last early summer course over and done with at Loyola, with the cool, nippy spring weather fading into a distant memory in muggy and humid Baltimore, I definitely deserved a break from all the feverish studying, reading and writing. The timing was perfect. My niece was due to cap her fourteen years of violin lessons, and six years of formal piano lessons with a concert-recital, an occasion that was timed with her 18th birthday celebrations last June 26. It was a perfect opportunity for a quick swing off to sunny but comfortably cool Northern California, a good 5 hours direct flight away from BWI (Baltimore-Washington International Airport).

The traditional Filipino Hispanic inspired cotillion waltz that opened the debutante’s dinner-party was a sight to behold. The members of the court were all Americans save three who have some kind of Filipino heritage. Seeing them in their jusi barongs (a native formal attire for men) and native-Filipino-inspired gowns (all specially tailored and stitched in Paranaque), had an air of odd, but pleasant, and welcome incongruity. It was a perfect example that friendship knows no cultural nor racial barriers. The wonder is that they all endured the many long and tedious hours of rehearsals under the capable direction of a Filipino-American couple whose passion is dancing. My niece’s members of the “court,” along with other friends, prevailed upon her to put up the “cotillion de honor,” after having seen a video tape presented by her in class in a course that talked about different cultures and practices all over the world. In exchange, they promised to be faithful to the rehearsals and to help set up the party.

Put it up magnificently and well, they did. From an observer’s viewpoint, however, their performance of the Todo, Todo line-dancing sequence leaves much to be desired in terms of gracefulness, but all the same, it was worth all the long hours of practicing and pirouetting.

After the party, my niece was scheduled to join the annual Music Teachers’ Association of California convention, one of the 1,500 out of 30,000 music student-participants from all over the state who applied and passed the competitive exams, held at San Diego, CA.

That was another opportunity for me to tag along and be part of the mass exodus of long-weekenders for the Independence Day celebrations.

The trip down Highway 5 to southern California seemed less exciting than previous ones done years back. Somehow, the road seemed more bumpy, less taken care of, and the drive less pleasant. (Does all the money go to finance the Iraq and Afghanistan wars? What happened to the famed American clock-work efficiency at maintenance?) What made it exciting though, was the possibility of making a swing for Simi Valley, where just two weeks before, Reagan was buried right on the grounds of his Presidential Library. Of course, the library is opened only for serious researchers with a purpose, not gaping tourists like everyone who flocked to it seemed to be! The museum was not particularly interesting. They were just memorabilias and a massive collection of trinkets associated with Ron and Nancy Reagan’s closely intertwined lives. As an avid reader and a writing aficionado, though, I felt a certain emotional affinity with Ronald Reagan, whose speeches and personal letters definitely show a man who was very articulate, well-read, and who had a certain flair for writing. He, indeed, lived the epithet ascribed to him as the great communicator in more ways than one. Incidentally, during his state funeral, I was struck by the undeniable fact that both Thatcher and Mulroney read very finely written eulogies, delivered with perfect oratorical cadence, and couched in excellent, elegant prose that overshadowed the very plebeian, amateurish pieces delivered by Bush, Sr. and Bush, Jr. (oftentimes referred to rather disparagingly as Dubya). The highlight of the museum, at least for me, was the exact replica of the oval office, arranged exactly the way it had been during his eight years as President, down to the last details, including the view from the windows.

Approaching the sprawling city of LA, what surprised me were the new “developments” taking place in what I thought would not become residential areas – steeply sloping hills that used to be dotted, not by upscale residential homes, but by sparse vegetation usually found in the semi-arid conditions of southern California. The trip through the Highway 405 that hugged the coastline and crisscrossed the entire city reminded me of the traffic conditions of EDSA. We spent almost three hours just getting through 405 on the way further south to San Diego. For all the much ballyhooed freeway system of California considered as among the most extensive of its kind in the world, congestion remains a formidable challenge in one of America’s most traffic-clogged cities (along with Chicago, New York, Washington, DC, Dallas, and others). Incidentally, in Baltimore, I see that there are drivers who behave more like Filipino drivers in Manila. At the 695 beltway that rings the city of Baltimore, where traffic ordinarily gets congested during morning and afternoon rush hours, there are drivers who are learning the art of “cutting” and “weaving in and out” of lanes – practices that Filipino drivers (especially jeepney, taxi, and bus drivers), have elevated to the level of skilled artistry, if not an Olympic sport in the Philippines.

I have always maintained that human behavior is for the most part dictated by need. Space being basically limited, the solution to the traffic problem depends upon the availability of more space, more resources, and more money. But more resources lead to more and bigger cars. Development necessarily entails the need for more and more roads. The vicious cycle goes on.

This model just cannot go on forever. No, not even in America, as the growing traffic problems everywhere seem to suggest. The paradigm simply has to change. Mass transit will have to part of the planning now, not in the future. But will America put a stop to its love affair with the automobile that is the modern symbol of its culture of rugged individualism, personal freedom, and mobility? Will America learn from the growing phenomenon of more and more places saying no to the dumping of garbage in the technically flawed system of landfills? Not in my backyard … even if trash is created right within people’s homes.

San Diego … a city that sits on sloping hills, a city of towering and crisscrossing highway interchanges, a hotel-studded entertainment and convention center that hugs the Pacific coastline that used to be part of what was known as Alta California (as distinct from the Baja California that belongs to Mexico), is also home to the 48 year old, but still awesome aircraft carrier USS Midway!

Hotel Circle, a cluster of well-known and lesser known hotels just a few miles south of downtown was abuzz with excited musicians from all over California that Independence Day long weekend. Watching the whiz kids banging on the piano keyboard with absolute panache and self-confidence was entertainment enough for me. It was a wonder to me whether they were doing anything more than piano playing. What struck me most was the egregious fact that the great majority of them were chinky eyed children of Asian descent. Among us, we jokingly remarked that some of those might have been tied to their pianos by their parents to make them practice for five hours a day.

Just a few miles further south of San Diego is National City, the turf of Jollibee, Chowking, Red Ribbon, PNB, and other familiar joints in the Philippines. But this is America! National City, a short hop away from the navy ports, naturally and gradually became the enclave of Filipino US navy men and their families. As we munched on chicken joy with rice (the portions here are bigger than back home), we watched as cars passed by the main thoroughfare. We saw only an occasional Caucasian at the wheels or in the passenger seat. Most of those who passed by were – you guessed it right – pinoy at pango, like us. Banners hanging on lamp posts featuring the American flag are emblazoned with “Welcome” and “Mabuhay.” And yes, posters in the Filipino eating places announce the forthcoming concert of Dolphy and Zsa-Zsa Padilla. We ended up in Jollibee after a futile search for the restaurant named “Manila’s Best.” What we found was a “turo-turo” whose fare, like almost all Filipino restaurants in America, did not look appetizing. Food oozed or was literally smothered in grease, haphazardly placed in warmers that stood behind glass lined counters. I swore that for a while, I thought I was in Cubao, or Pasay near LRT stations, desperately wanting a hot meal after a long drive in Manila-like summer weather. Hindi bale na lang!

San Diego happens to be the site of the first Catholic mission started by the prolific Franciscan missionary named Junipero Serra. Mission San Diego de Alcala definitely brought character and color to San Diego, vestiges and signs of which are still evident nominally, at least. The baseball team calls itself the San Diego Padres. Roads and places betray the religious origins of the city: Escondido, El Centro, Friars’ Road, Coronado Island, and a whole lot more.

Few people who live now in San Diego, or for that matter all over California, are now willing to give credit to Junipero Serra’s vision and mission. The ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union), an ultra liberal and anti-Christian group recently succeeded in removing the cross from the emblem of LA county. They also have managed to remove the ten commandments from a court in Alabama. Now they want to remove the “San” from San Pedro, Santa Clarita, Santa Rosa, San Francisco, San Luis Obispo, San Pablo, San Jose, etc. all in the name, at least overtly, of the doctrine of separation between Church and State. Funny how some people could be so allergic to what they call the dogmatist church and religions, and act so dogmatically and doggedly against any external sign and show of religiosity. Curiously enough, no one among them talks about removing the image of the goddess Pomona in the same emblem. No one talks of renaming Pomona boulevard in LA.

For all their protestations, however, history cannot be unwritten. History cannot be changed. And history shows very clearly how the very freedom they now invoke to fight against religion, was laid down in its foundations by “padres” and “friars” like Blessed Junipero Serra, even as historically, America’s founding fathers decreed the doctrine of separation of Church and state, precisely to safeguard the right of religion and religious groups to exist in what was then known as the confederate states. Take and read any history book, whether religiously inspired or not, and see the historical truth that juts out incontrovertibly. It was people like these padres, these friars, people sent as missionaries by Holy Mother the Church, that stand at the bottom, and that constitute the foundation of democratic freedom, personal liberty, and, ultimately, free enterprise.

History does not lie. And intelligent people are not blind, except those who would not see.

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