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Sa Loob at Labas ng Bayan Kong Sawi:
Emergency Signals from a Filipino Exile

Editor’s Note: This is the final installment of a three-part essay on the exilic mindset grappling for meaning in the diaspora. The author expounds on Filipinos in dispersion defining their space and reasons for their dislocation. (See Part 1 and Part 2.)

Ang hindi lumingon sa pinanggalingan
ay hindi makararating sa paroroonan.
[One who does not look back to where he came from
will not reach his destination.]
—Ancient Tagalog proverb

Unless the transnational bourgeoisie conspire together in this post-Cold War era of inter-capitalist rivalry, I hazard that after so much sacrifices the new social formation will not be a simple mimicry of the bourgeois nation-state. Let us hope so.

Exile then is a ruse, a subterfuge of the temporarily weak subaltern against the master. It is a problem of deploying time against space—the classic guerilla stratagem against superior firepower. It is the cunning of conviction, of hope.

We thus have a replay of Hegel's choreography of master and slave in a new context. Long before Foucault and Michel de Certeau came around to theorize the performance of everyday resistance, Bertolt Brecht had already explored in his Lehrstucke the theme of Schweikian evasions and underminings. The moment of suspended regularity, the interruption of the normal and habitual, becomes the occasion to vindicate the sacrifices of all those forgotten, invisible, silenced. In Peter Weiss' play Trotsky in Exile, in the scene before his execution, Trotsky expresses this hope amid setbacks, defeats, losses of all kinds:

I can't stop believing in reason, in human solidarity. . . . Failures and disappointments can't stop me from seeing beyond the present defeat to a rising of the oppressed everywhere. This is no Utopian prophecy. It is the sober prediction of a dialectical materialist. I have never lost my faith in the revolutionary power of the masses. But we must be prepared for a long fight. For years, maybe decades, of revolts, civil wars, new revolts, new wars.

In times of emergency, Trotsky's waiting in exile proves to be the time of pregnancy, of gestation and the emergence of new things.

Apart from being a symptom of defeat, exile then can also serve as a weapon of resistance. After the Jewish diaspora in the sixth century B.C., the captivity in Babylon, and the centuries of imperial devastation, now we have the situation of the Palestinians, deprived of their native habitat, finally on the way, in transit, to—we don't know yet. A nation-state: is that the harbor, the terminal, of the passage from darkness to light? Unless the transnational bourgeoisie conspire together in this post-Cold War era of inter-capitalist rivalry, I hazard that after so much sacrifices the new social formation will not be a simple mimicry of the bourgeois nation-state. Let us hope so.

For so many years after World War II, the Palestinians were the "wandering Jews," also known as "terrorists" by their enemies. One of the most eloquent poets of this diaspora, Fawaz Turki, described how Palestinians in exile attest to "the transcendence. . .in the banal," how they agonized "over who is really in exile:/they or their homeland,/who left who/who will come back to the/other first/where will they meet. . . . " Exiles are like lovers then who yearn not for homecoming but for a meeting, another tryst, the long-awaited encounter and reunion. At first, the land was the loved one; later on, the land metamorphoses into events, places, encounters, defeats and victories.

For Edward Said, however, exile is the space of the "extraterritorial" where the Baudelairean streetwalker of modernity finally arrives. Said celebrates exile with a vengeance. In After the Last Sky, he recognizes the pain, bitter sorrow, and despair but also the unsettling and de-centering force of the exile's plight, its revolutionary potential. Even though Said believes that "the pathos of exile is in the loss of contact with the solidity and the satisfaction of earth: homecoming is out of the question," he seems to counterpoint to it a Gnostic, even Neo-Platonic, response by invoking Hugh of St. Victor, a twelfth-century monk from Saxony:

It is, therefore, a source of great virtue for the practiced mind to learn, bit by bit, first to change about in visible and transitory things, so that afterwards it may be able to leave them behind altogether. The person who finds his homeland sweet is still a tender beginner; he to whom every soil is as his native one is already strong; but he is perfect to whom the entire world is as a foreign place. The tender soul has fixed his love on one spot in the world; the strong person has extended his love to all places; the perfect man has extinguished his .

Rob Nixon considers the exiles as an invaluable asset for the construction of a new South Africa: "Reentering exiles should thus be recognized as cross-border creations, incurable cultural misfits who can be claimed as a resource, rather than spurned as alien, suspect, or irrelevant."

On second thought, this asceticism may be culture-bound, or it may be peculiar to a continental mentality overshadowed by surrounding mountains. Like our brothers in the Caribbean, we Filipinos are archipelagic creatures trained to navigate treacherous waters and irregular shoals. Our epistemic loyalty is to islands with their distinctive auras, vibrations, trajectory, fault lines. John Fowles is one of the few shrewd minds who can discern the difference between the continental and the archipelagic sensorium: "Island communities are the original alternative societies. That is why so many islanders envy them. Of their nature they break down the multiple alienations of industrial and suburban man. Some vision of Utopian belonging, of social blessedness, of an independence based on cooperation, haunts them all." Islands signify our solidarity.

With this Utopian motif, we may recall Shevek, in Ursula Le Guin's The Dispossessed, for whom exile is the symbol for inhabiting an unfinished, incomplete world. It is a site where fulfillment (happiness, reunion, homecoming) is forever postponed. This sustained deferral is what exile means: "There was process: process was all. You could go in a promising direction or you could go wrong, but you did not set out with the expectation of ever stopping anywhere."

Meanwhile, consider the fate of partisans of the South African struggle now allowed re-entry into their homeland. Exile for them always entailed a return to a national space to exercise the rights of reclamation and restitution. Yet when the "rendezvous of victory" arrived in 1992, we find "translated persons" and partisans of metissage at the entry points. Commenting on Bessie Head's achievement, Rob Nixon considers the exiles as an invaluable asset for the construction of a new South Africa: "Reentering exiles should thus be recognized as cross-border creations, incurable cultural misfits who can be claimed as a resource, rather than spurned as alien, suspect, or irrelevant."

Toward the predicament of uprooting, one can assume polarized stances. One is the sentimental kind expressed poignantly by Bienvenido Santos: "All exiles want to go home. Although many of them never return, in their imagination they make their journey a thousand times, taking the slowest boats because in their dream world time is not as urgent as actual time passing, quicker than arrows, kneading on their flesh, crying on their bones."

The antithesis to that is the understated, self-estranged gesture of Bertolt Brecht. Driven from Europe by Hitler's storm-troopers, the path-breaking dramatist found himself a refugee, neither an expatriate nomad nor border-crossing immigrant. Crossing the Japanese Sea, he watched "the grayish bodies of dolphins" in the gaiety of dawn. In "Landscape of Exile," Brecht cast himself in the role of the fugitive who "beheld with joy. . .the little horsecarts with gilt decorations / and the pink sleeves of the matrons / in the alleys of doomed Manila." His visit to the Philippines was short-lived, like those of Hemingway and Faulkner in the years of the Cold War. Situated on the edge of disaster, Brecht discovered that the oil derricks, the thirsty gardens of Los Angeles, the ravines and fruit market of California "did not leave the messenger of misfortune unmoved." By analogy, were the Pinoys and other Asians at the turn of the century messengers of a messianic faith, underwriting visions of apocalypse long before Brecht sighted the coast of the North American continent?

* * * * *

The aboriginal Indians, dispossessed of their homelands and victimized by those merchants... express for us also what I think can be the only ultimate resolution for human exile and diaspora for Filipinos as well as for other peoples: "We and the earth, our mother, are of one mind."

From these excursions into delinquent and wayward paths, we return to the idea of transit, passage, a movement of reconnaissance in search of a home everywhere, that is, wherever materials are available for building a shelter for work and community. This may be the ultimate philosophical mission in our time whose most provocative prophet is John Berger. Berger's meditations on home, migration, and exile in And our faces, my heart, brief as photos deserve careful pondering. By way of provisional conclusion to these notes, I want to summarize here a few of his insights on the complex phenomenology of exile.

You can never go home again, Thomas Wolfe counseled us. But what do you mean by home? we respond. Berger speculates on what happens after the loss of home when the migrant leaves, when the continuity with the ancestral dead is broken. The first substitute for the lost, mourned object (kin, home) is passionate erotic love that transcends history. Romantic love unites two displaced persons, linking beginnings and origins, because it pre-dates experience and allows memory and imagination free play. Such passion inspired the project of completing what was incomplete, of healing the division of the sexes—a substitute for homecoming. But romantic love, like religion and the sacramental instinct, has suffered attenuation and transmogrification in the modern world of secular rationality. It has been displaced by commodity-fetishism, the cash-nexus, and the cult of simulacra and spectacles. Berger then expounds on the other alternative historical hope of completion:

Every migrant knows in his heart of hearts that it is impossible to return. Even if he is physically able to return, he does not truly return, because he himself has been so deeply changed by his emigration. It is equally impossible to return to that historical state in which every village was the center of the world. One hope of recreating a center is now to make it the entire earth. Only world-wide solidarity can transcend modern homelessness. Fraternity is too easy a term; forgetting Cain and Abel, it somehow promises that all problems can be soluble. In reality many are insoluble—hence the never-ending need for solidarity.

Today, as soon as very early childhood is over, the house can never again be home, as it was in other epochs. This century, for all its wealth and with all its communication systems, is the century of banishment. Eventually perhaps the promise, of which Marx was the great prophet, will be fulfilled, and then the substitute for the shelter of a home will not just be our personal names, but our collective conscious presence in history, and we will live again at the heart of the real. Despite everything, I can imagine it.

Meanwhile, we live not just our own lives but the longings of our century.

Revolution, then, is the way out through the stagnant repetition of suffering and deprivation in everyday business life. It is Walter Benjamin's Jetzt-Zeit, Now-Time, that will blast the continuum of reified history. It is an ever-present apocalypse whose presiding spirit in the past, Joachim da Fiore, finds many incarnations in the present: for one, the Filipino overseas contract worker and his unpredictable, unlicensed peregrinations.

Meanwhile look, stranger, on this planet Earth belonging to no single individual, our mother whom no one possesses. We find solidarity with indigenous peoples an inexhaustible source of comfort, inspiration, and creative renewal. The aboriginal Indians, dispossessed of their homelands and victimized by those merchants—agents of Faust and Mephistopheles—obsessed by private ownership and solitary hedonism, express for us also what I think can be the only ultimate resolution for human exile and diaspora for Filipinos as well as for other peoples: "We and the earth, our mother, are of one mind."

* * * * *

ni E. San Juan, Jr.


Lumipad ka na patungong Roma at London
Balisang nakalingon sa ulap lulan ng naglaboy na panaginip
Lubog sa alaala ng kinabukasang unti-unting nalulunod

Lumipad ka na patungong Riyadh at Qatar
Sa pagkamulat kukurap-kurap sa pagtulog puso'y nagsisikip
Binabagabag ng sumpang naligaw sa salawahang paglalakbay

Lumipad ka na patungong Toronto at New York
Tinutugis ang biyayang mailap nabulusok sa patibong ng banyaga
Sa ulilang pugad anong maamong pag-asa ang nabulabog

Lumipad ka na patungong Chicago at San Francisco
Kumakaway ka pa tiwalang may katuparang babati ng "Mabuhay!"
Alinlangang luha'y naglambitin sa bahag-hari ng bawat yapos

Lumipad ka na patungong Hong Kong at Tokyo
"Di kita malilimot"—pumaimbulog ang tukso ng nabitiwang paalam
Nabakling pakpak usok sa bagwis inalagwang talulot ng bituing

Lumipad ka na patungong Sydney at Taipeh
Ay naku, anong panganib ng gayumang sa pangarap nagkupkop
Ibon kang nagpumiglas alay mo'y talim ng paglayang nilalangit

Lumipad ka, O sintang mahal, ngunit saang kandungan ka lalapag?
Bumabalik sa dalampasigang hulog ng iyong hinasang pagtitiis
Aking kaluluwang hiniwa't ikinalat sa bawat sulok ng daigdig.


Iiwan mo lahat ng iyong minamahal; ito ang palaso na unang
ipinawawalan ng busog ng pagkataponâ.
--Dante Alighieri

Huli na raw ang lahat. Huli na, umalis na ang tren lulan
   ang gunita't pangarap.
Huli na, lumipas na ang kamusmusan ng balikbayang naglagalag.

Huli na, naiwan na tayo ng eruplanong patungong Tokyo
   at Los Angeles.
Huli na, nakaraan na ang oras ng kagampan at pagsisiyam.

Tumulak na, malayo na ang bapor patungong Hong Kong at
Nagbabakasakaling aabot pa ang kable—Sayang, di biro,

Huli ka na sa pangakong pinutakti ng agam-agam at pag-uulik-
Huli na, nahulog na ang araw. Itikom ang labi, itiim ang bagang.

Kahuluga'y naanod-lumubog sa dagat Sargasso ng
   pagpapakumbaba't pagtitiis—
Pahabol ay di na magbubuhol—Tapos na ang pagsisisi't

Walang taga-ligtas ang lalapag sa tarmak mula sa lobo ng iyong
Huli na nga, nakaraos na ang kasukdulan, di na maisasauli ang

Sinong manlalakbay ang magkakaila upang mahuli ang
Mailap pa sa mabangis na hayop na nasukol, bumabalandra
   sa rehas—

Mailap pa sa hibong nagpupumiglas—Saan ka nanggaling?
   Saan pupunta?
Paos, hapo, dayukdok, gasgas ang siko't tuhod, gumagapang mula
   sa guwang—

Maghulihan tayo ng loob, Estranghera, hinihintay ang ligayang
   walang kahulilip.

© E. San Juan, Jr.

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