Cultural identity – what have you got to say about it?
I found this in my archives, written during a period of conceptual confusion. This experience of perplexity led me to fiction, where the attempt to work out the grounds on which cultural identity rests was left unfinished, and unresolved. I no longer spin fantasies as I once dreamed I would. There comes a time for writing things plainly and for speaking in ordinary words, among the like-minded and not-so-like-minded.
So let us write, let us think, let us talk. The Kapisanan Youth Roundtable.
Meditation on Kafka
I never understood his repeated cautions, echoed throughout my youth. As if holding one’s breath before submerging, he hid his resignation for fear of choking on regret. Trying too hard at understatement, he merely said, “Don’t be like me.”
I imagine him then, as a boy crouched down in the shallow water, ankle deep, impregnating the soil beneath with wrinkled fingers made tender from the rhythmic plunging of those green shoots. There is a song that makes this scene comical which the school children sing, perhaps as drones chanting a melody in a language they hear, but do not know.
Planting rice is never fun,
Bent from morn till the set of sun.
Cannot stand and cannot sit,
Cannot rest for a little bit.
“Twenty dahllars in my pahcket, a suitcase, and wearing dee only suit your mom shrunk. Pero, she did not know better dan to put it in dee londry.”
I have heard these words many times before, knowing that with each recital, he replays the defining moment of his life. It is the time when, stepping off the plane with such meagre possessions, he forever shed phantoms condemning him as the peasant farmer’s son. Despite this metamorphoses, still, he said, “Don’t be like me.”
Thinning ever so slightly, his hair maintains a jet black sheen. There are no wrinkles, but his skin looks softer, looser, further from the bone. Puffs as lower eye-lids. Twice laid-off and twice recalled, his final years with the company loom. And I wonder how it happened that those hands would press upon and hold the steel meant to shuttle passengers across seas as he first did; how it happened that he went from working the earth to assembling cockpits and giant wings. Then I hear those words reverberate in that subtle tone, warning of unforeseen fatigue penetrating in ways he did not intend.