Life between the ivory tower and a cardboard box

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I am a Third Culture Kid and Advocate

I think I’ve always known I was a TCK.  I have always had some degree of awareness of how unique (not superior) my background is, and I have been lucky to be surrounded by supportive family and friends who accept me for who I am.  It is the best thing any person can ask for.

Unfortunately, not everyone is so lucky.  Many TCKs get by without understanding their own emotions and experiences and with very little or no support from family and peers.  Unfortunately, many Adult TCKs (ATCKs) have told stories about discovering a name for their identity much later in life, after years of experiencing depression and isolation.   Many younger TCKs do not receive the support needed to weather the complex layers of change they encounter during their formative years.  Many TCKs feel lost and feel they do not belong anywhere.  More than anything, they need people who understand them and a support system that can address their needs and can help them find acceptance.

Since the use online social networks became more ubiquitous, more avenues for connecting people of similar interests and backgrounds have cropped up.  Among these were groups dedicated to third culture kids, connecting global nomads to one another regardless of physical distance.  As conversations unfolded, so did the rumblings of something larger: a shared dedication to realizing a world where there is an acceptance of a diversity that runs deeper than race, nationality, ethnicity, linguistic background, religious beliefs, or sexual orientation, and encompasses an infinite spectrum of experiences and identities.

TCKID Pledge Page blog size

From here, individuals in the TCK community began a more organized approach to fulfill this vision.  One of the organizations at the forefront of this movement is TCKID, a non-profit community organization founded by Brice Royer and dedicated to connecting TCKs to each other and to resources that address TCKs’ unique needs. Some of the projects that have been implemented include weekly chats with TCK volunteers, organizing local TCKID groups in numerous cities across North America, Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and Africa, and a TCK research arm. Future projects are in the works.

As these plans are underway, TCKID faces many of the same challenges growing organizations face. Fundamentally, TCKID needs the support of its community members and allies to continue building on its vision and providing the support system that is so important to TCKs.

We are asking anyone who identifies as a TCK, who grew up feeling torn between cultures, who had to say goodbye too many times to loved ones who kept coming and going, who has friends no matter where they go, or anyone with a loved one who identifies this way, to pledge their support.  In doing so, TCKs everywhere will always have a resource to turn to and can be a step closer to building a diverse and understanding community.

I signed the pledge, because I believe that supporting third culture kids is a form of social justice and is tantamount to supporting all individuals with postmodern identities, beyond traditional definitions of identity. I want to work to build a community where all cultural identities and expressions are accepted. I also want to continue supporting others like myself. After living extensively in four countries through my formative and adult years, I understand how it feels to feel connected to different cultural contexts and still feel isolated. I want to provide an open mind and a listening ear and provide a sense of understanding. I am also very excited to see what the TCK community can accomplish together.

TCKs are a diverse and vibrant community, and I am proud to identify as one. I will continue advocating for TCKs and the vision they represent.

Read I am a Third Culture Kid: Being “The Foreigner”
Read am a Third Culture Kid: Introduction


Scene in the City: Elections

In honor of the coming Barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) elections this Monday, October 29, today I give you not just one, not even two, but three short videos I took last weekend, of campaign activities going on while I was doing field work in the metro. They aren’t fabulous quality or anything (two were taken with my digital camera, while one was taken with my cell phone), but they do the job.

This first video features just one minute out of a five minute parade of cars that passed in front of our site, all of whom sported posters and balloons, while supporters wore pink T-shirts to promote their favorite candidate.

This second video is a another, more flamboyant parade that happened some time after the first video, featuring loud sirens and high school students playing the drums to attract the attention of potential voters.

The third video (obviously the one taken with my cell phone) shows a candidate appropriating a Britney Spears song to tell voters why she is the right person for the job. Her first name is Baby, which may explain the song choice.

Scenes like these have been going on all over the city and the country, including my own neighborhood, in anticipation of Monday’s elections. In addition to the entourages and the loud music, there are also posters and banners lining the walls, phone lines, and, soon, the bins, gutters, and burning piles of trash in every street all over the Philippines.

While all of this fanfare was going on, I couldn’t help but wonder: What would make me choose any of these candidates? Each parade had several candidates trailing one another, all featuring the same pink balloons, the same pink T-shirts, and the same smiling, waving, hard-hat sporting candidate hoisted at the back of the same pick-up truck. You have to possess basic reading skills to be able to tell each candidate apart. As far as I could tell, there was nothing that made a candidate stand out. This is exacerbated by the fact that I have no recollection of any running candidate taking the time to talk to voters about the issues. I haven’t been employed that long, so I would have been around in case someone came by or announced a forum to discuss barangay issues. Even my mom, who is currently not employed and little more knowledgeable about what goes on around here, has no idea who any of the candidates are and does not intend to vote on Monday. It is a little disappointing and frustrating to be faced with the responsibility to vote for someone when you have no idea what they can do for you.

I also find it disingenuous how candidates seem to think that making noise, wasting paper, and covering pop songs somehow makes them worthier of my vote. That doesn’t really tell me anything, except maybe who you are friends with and how creative you can get by inserting your name into a Top 40 hit. It is also insulting to voters, who deserve to know what they are getting into, instead of being manipulated by people who are supposed to serve them.

Then again, what do I know. I have not had the chance to participate in Philippine politics since turning 18, due to the fact that I was away and living far from the nearest embassy. Perhaps I just don’t know enough to understand that this is how it works here, or that I’m still so out of the loop that I’m missing some of the different ways that voters are getting their information. In a way, I still feel like a foreigner here, still trying to learn even the most basic aspects of life in the Philippines. I am sincerely asking anyone out there to enlighten me on the mechanics of the upcoming elections, if you find my thoughts too uninformed or offending.

This is what I do know, though. I was also the foreigner when I was living in the U.S., but for someone who couldn’t vote, I was still fairly informed about U.S. political affairs. My social circles ran the full spectrum, from deeply involved activists and people employed by presidential campaigns, to the uninformed or otherwise apathetic. All of these people have at least heard of candidates running for office (local, state, or national), and even friends who would be considered members of the so-called Sex and the City demographic can give brief talking points or soundbites given by candidates after simply talking to friends or tuning in to the evening news for a few minutes. Basically, I thought that it was not hard to be informed about politics there, as the media does a decent job of reporting what is going on and sticking to the issues. On the other hand, I am hard-pressed to say anything truly insightful about Philippine politics, besides the occasional quip about how “corrupt” it is or maybe a comment on the usefulness of the phrase “legal gobbledygook”.

This is not meant to be biting political or social commentary, but just my reaction to some things I have seen and am truly baffled about. All I am saying is that, as a citizen and someone who does make an effort to stay informed, I don’t feel like I know enough, and I think that future and current politicians and the media in the Philippines aren’t doing a good job of informing all people about what is really going on and why they should care about it. All the rhetoric about being patriotic and doing things to uplift the fellow Filipino doesn’t mean a damn thing until people — who, by the way, are supposed to be part of this “democracy” — are properly informed and educated about the issues. Until things change, unfortunately, there is nothing all the Britney Spears songs in the world can do to help us become a more engaged and politically functional community.


A Petition to Bring “The Colbert Report” to the Philippines

Stephen ColbertAdmit it, nation. You are hot for Stephen Colbert of The Colbert Report. You love the way he pokes fun at TV pundits with his deadpan comedic delivery. You think there is absolutely nothing wrong with introducing a guest by watching shots of Stephen prance about on stage from several different camera angles. You may even think he could be the right father for your future children after watching him adopt a baby eagle. And, of course, watching him do tumbles and outsing Barry Manilow totally makes you want to touch yourself. (Don’t hate, I know some of you have at least thought about it.)

What’s that? Don’t know what I’m talking about, you say? Of course, you wouldn’t. Because, horror of horrors, The Colbert Report is not shown in the Philippines.

For the uninitiated: The Colbert Report is a U.S. satirical news program in the same vein as The Daily Show, from which it is a spin-off and counterpart. Like TDS, TCR discusses and critiques current events and the media using satire, parody, and caricature. Unlike TDS, TCR is character-driven, focusing on Colbert’s fictional character, Stephen Colbert, and parodying personality-focused pundit programs, most notably, The O’Reilly Factor. Since its debut in October 2005, it has become one of the highest-rated shows on Comedy Central and has managed to influence U.S. popular and political culture.

I obviously don’t need to tell you that this is one of my favorite shows. I will tell you, though, that it was definitely heartbreaking to come back here to the Philippines and find out that I would not be able to catch it on TV. Currently, you can catch clips from the show on iFilm, but I maintain that it does not compare to seeing the whole show in one go and logically following TDS.

So, if you live in the Philippines and are a fan of The Daily Show, or simply want to know what all the fuss is about, here are my top 5 reasons why Philippine TV must bring The Colbert Report this side of the Pacific.

  1. We can finally know who that Stephen dude at the end of The Daily Show is. Does it bother you that Jon Stewart sets you up for another 30 minutes of comedic bliss by having a hilarious conversation with one of his former correspondents, only to be disappointed when you see the opening credits for David Letterman (no disrespect to Letterman, of course)? It bothers me, too. If we had The Colbert Report here, we will finally understand what the hell is going on and stop being cheated by the cableNazis. I’m looking at you, JackTV.
  2. Stephen Colbert wants more Filipino friends. Fans of the show know about Stephen’s ongoing quest for a new Black friend. In Episode 123, Stephen reveals that, according to his Friends Exchange Rate, “one Black friend equals two Filipino friends.” He wants your friendship, nation! Get The Colbert Report here and give him some love!
  3. Stephen Colbert is a go-getter. What Stephen wants, the Colbert Nation gives. Stephen has managed to give his name to a Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream flavor, a junior ice hockey team in Michigan, and a bridge in Hungary, with the votes of the Colbert Nation. Stephen has also convinced his fans to vandalize Wikipedia entries and create YouTube videos with his image for the Green Screen Challenge. He has also just released his new book, I Am America (And So Can You!). The Colbert Report has managed to penetrate U.S. popular culture by engaging and utilizing people and their mass power to influence the show with technology. Kind of like our own People Power here in the Philippines. Coincidence? I think not.
  4. WikialityStephen Colbert is changing the English language. Anyone who can get millions of people to mispronounce “report” has got to be legit. One of the most popular segments on TCR is “The Wørd”, where Stephen discusses an issue using a key term or phrase. Often, Stephen will feature a neologism that ends up being used in everyday language. The words truthiness and Wikiality are two such words and, according to Wikipedia, have both been honored as the top television buzzwords of 2006 by the Global Language Monitor. Call center agents in the Philippines, take heed! You never know when these new words can come in handy when handling an irate customer, especially one that tells you to “Learn some damn English!”
  5. Stephen Colbert has guts. Perhaps one of the most defining moments for Stephen Colbert, the actor and the fictional character, was his speech at the 2006 White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner, where, in the presence of celebrities, politicians, members of the White House Press Corps, and President George W. Bush himself, he (as Stephen Colbert the character) gave a biting satirical performance and indictment of President Bush’s administration and the media. To be able to do what he does every night in front of the big man himself takes a lot of balls and talent. Watch the entire thing here. Perhaps the Philippines can pick up a hint or two for how to address our own political troubles?
  6. Stephen Colbert is a fox. Yes, I know 6 is one more than 5. But let the record show that Stephen is not at all hard to look at. Jane Fonda and even feminist Gloria Steinem will agree with me here. Stephen Colbert can tip his hat and wag his finger for me anytime. Of course, it’s a little hard to do this when he is not being shown in the Philippines.

There you have it, nation. I encourage you to check out some clips and see if you are as rabid for The Colbert Report as I am. I also call on you to join me in my petition for more Stephen on our TVs. Whether by sending letters to our cable channels or getting the Catholic Church to intervene, if we can overthrow two presidents by coming together and blocking major roadways, we can definitely bring in a TV show that is more Filipino-friendly than Desperate Housewives.

Until then . . . Philippine TV, you are ON NOTICE.


Overrated or Underrated: Slut Slur on “The Daily Show”

. . . annnnnd, hot on the heels of the Desperate Housewives controversy comes more outrage regarding a skit on the popular satirical news show, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. This time, the Filipino community is angered over a Daily Show skit called “Is America Ready for A Woman President?” During one of Daily Show correspondent Samantha Bee’s monologues, a photo of former Philippine president Cory Aquino is inscribed with the word “Slut!”

The skit in its entirety can be seen here:

While the response has not been as large as the one that met Desperate Housewives, many Filipino bloggers have expressed anger about having its first female president be labeled with such a sexist and untrue label. Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago has put in a request to the Department of Foreign Affairs to forward a complaint to the creators of TDS. Feminist NGO Gabriela has spoken out and condemned the use of comedy that demeans all women. I have read in a few places that Jon Stewart has issued a statement, but have yet to find a reliable news source to link to.

Unlike Desperate Housewives, I am a huge fan of TDS. When I was still living in the U.S., I watched it very religiously almost every night, along with its partner show, The Colbert Report with Stephen Colbert. I watch the delayed telecast here in the Philippines (at least until Jack TV changed the broadcast schedule unannounced), as well as sometimes catching the condensed Global Edition on CNN International. As a result, I am very familiar with its style and sense of humor, and I usually find it side-splitting hilarious.

I would encourage the Filipino community to please view the skit in its entirety, rather than focus on the three seconds it takes to show the photo in question and thereby stripping it of any context whatsoever. First, even if you are a first-time viewer of TDS, I think it’s quite plain that Samantha Bee doesn’t mean to take herself seriously. The whole segment is a parody of Sex and the City, for crying out loud. Samantha Bee gets splashed with a bucket of water while wearing a TUTU, and we see her trying to sip the remnants of her spilled Cosmo off of her laptop. The scene with President Aquino’s photo has Samantha Bee at the gynecologist’s office, with her legs spread open. Come on. If that doesn’t scream exaggeration or comedy to you, then I don’t know what will. Second, the gynecologist’s scene had photos of leaders other than President Aquino, including a “photo” of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in a panty-less shot very much in the style of Britney Spears and Paris Hilton. Both photos were also a parody of popular gossip blog Perez Hilton, who is popular for defacing paparazzi photos with crudely drawn penises and sarcastic comments. Ultimately, parody does not reflect any malicious intent, but instead has a purpose or statement. In this case, like many TDS skits, many people’s irrational fears and beliefs are skewered and even debunked. By mentioninPerez Hiltong Cory Aquino and saying that she “faced down dictators” as one of the world’s first “girl leaders”, TDS is paying the Philippines a compliment by saying that we are actually more progressive than the U.S. because we have had female leaders while many Americans still have a problem even thinking about electing one. I believe that thinking critically about this skit is actually much more revealing than paying attention to one line that was delivered with irony.

I will add, however, that there is something to be said about differences in context. I will concede that the greater Filipino community has a much more logical basis for complaining about this skit, simply because there is no way that all Filipinos are going to pick up the references in what would otherwise be an obscure TV show.

For one, in the Philippines, TDS is only shown on cable TV channels, already limiting the viewership to a privileged handul. Furthermore, within the demographic of cable TV subscribers, those who don’t have Jack TV will have to catch the heavily edited, weekly TDS Global Edition on CNN International, which only shows highlights of the week’s shows and edits out any profanity or otherwise controversial segments and skits. That already dilutes the TDS style and can understandably cause confusion for those who may have been stunned by the nature of the Samantha Bee skit. This is just in the Philippines alone. I can’t even speak for the rest of the global Filipino community, who may not have even heard of the show or have access to channels that show it. All I know is that the show does not have the kind of impact on the larger community the way that, say, the movie A Walk To Remember did. Already, we have a community who, as a whole, would not understand where Jon Stewart and the rest of TDS are coming from. This is also exacerbated by the numerous U.S. pop culture-specific references, such as Sex and the City (also a cable show) and Perez Hilton’s blog, that would also fly over the heads of those who have never been exposed to it. So, it makes sense that many people would not get the humor and would consequently react with outrage.

In the movie Looking For Comedy in the Muslim World, Albert Brooks’ character asks [paraphrased], “Can’t we find anything that we can all laugh about?” Personally, I don’t know if there is an answer to that. What I do know is that there are some things that some people will find funny, while others will not. That is a social fact. Context can be summed up by saying, “You had to have been there to get it.” It can be as small as an inside joke between two friends, to a TV show that sets up a joke that only their devoted audience will understand, while casual listeners may not. The greater Filipino community may get outraged by a couple of U.S. TV shows, but has it ever thought about how its own comedic works are affecting other groups of people? Why does no one feel any anger or outrage towards Michael V.’s song “DJ Bumbay“, whose video is of a hyper-cartoonish Indian merchant?

If the same people who condemn Jon Stewart are the same ones who patronize these videos, then it would be safe to say that the outrage over TDS is self-serving and hypocritical. I think it is also safe to say that some comedy is not meant to be understood by everyone, and that part of what makes it so funny is because it is a reflection of contexts that only insiders may understand. The only time it should matter is if there are concrete repercussions to comedic performances, such as Blackface and the exclusion and ostracization of Blacks and Black performers in the U.S. And I highly doubt that the majority of Americans are suddenly going to go around believing that Filipino leaders and, by extension, all Filipinos are slutty just because some comedy skit said so.

In the wake of the Desperate Housewives controversy, it is getting more ridiculous and, quite frankly, embarrassing how much the Filipino community is ready to go to battle over a few TV shows. Again, I wish we would re-focus our priorities and show the same kind of anger and proactive-ness towards helping the poor, the unemployed, or the exploited find justice in an increasingly unstable environment. If we are going to continue nitpicking overseas entertainment for every mention of the Philippines or Filipinos, we are never going to be satisfied. So, we might as well focus our energies towards something that can actually be productive.

Final verdict: OVERRATED


New York Times: “Army Enlists Anthropology in War Zones”

NY TimesThe latest New York Times features an article titled Army Enlists Anthropology in War Zones. It describes a new program called Human Terrain Team, which assigns anthropologists and other social scientists to U.S. combat units in Iraq and Afghanistan. Team members use their expertise to study local populations and assist U.S. troops in creating solutions that will benefit both the local communities and U.S. operations. Supporters of the program say that this strategy has produced concrete results and has helped the U.S. Army in assisting and understanding local communities.

On the other hand, there is a body of opposition, fronted by anthropology professionals, who are concerned that anthropology will be used to exploit and harm the target populations and to serve the interests of the military and intelligence agencies. One anthropology professor went so far as to say that participants the program “will end up harming the entire discipline in the long run.”

I did some further research and it turns out that there has been a longstanding debate on the line between ethnographic study and counter-insurgency that goes back to World War I. A history of this debate and its consequences on anthropology and the American Anthropological Association written by David Price, a professor at St. Martin’s College in Washington State, U.S.A. and a leading critic of anthropology’s role in intelligence, can be read here. More information and debate can be found on anthropology blogs such as Antropologi.info and Savageminds.org. This has led to a petition created by an ad hoc group, the Network of Concerned Anthropologists, towards the development and promotion of an ethical anthropology.

It’s a very interesting debate, and it appears that it speaks a lot about anthropology’s ongoing identity crisis. I don’t really know enough about it to take a position yet, but I think this is definitely an indication of how relevant anthropology is, has been, and will continue to be in current affairs.


Overrated or Underrated: Racism on “Desperate Housewives”

For those of you not connected to the global Filipino community, what tends to happen is that any piece of international news that is even remotely about the Philippines, Filipinos, or any human being with Filipino ancestry, will be passed around and talked about, to the point that even the government feels the need to speak out about it. How can we forget the city of Manila branding Claire Danes as a persona non grata because she told Vogue and Premiere magazines that Manila “smelled of cockroaches, with rats all over and that there is no sewage system and the people do not have anything — no arms, no legs, no eyes”?

Not all of these much-debated news items deserve the kind of attention it has been receiving, though. The latest source of outrage is a recent episode of Desperate Housewives, where Teri Hatcher’s character visits her doctor, only to have him tell her that she is going through menopause. She then reacts by saying [paraphrased], “Okay, before we go any further, can I just check those diplomas? I want to make sure they’re not from some med school in the Philippines.”

Check it out:

As expected, the Filipino community has been up in arms about this and has called on everyone from Teri Hatcher, to the writers of “Desperate Housewives” and ABC Studios, to issue an apology to the Filipino people. Predictably, the Philippine government has also taken the lead in demanding an apology from the popular TV show. The comment hit particularly close to home, with millions of Filipino nurses, doctors, and other health care professionals migrating and practicing globally. As a result, ABC Studios has issued a statement, apologizing for “any offense caused by the brief reference in the season premiere.”

I have never seen an episode of Desperate Housewives, so I can’t really vouch for the show’s style or sense of humor. However, it is very obvious to me that, given the context, Teri Hatcher’s character was meant to overreact to the news of her menopause by implying that her doctor got his credentials at some far away, obscure place. Of course, it is unfortunate that that far away, obscure place happened to be the Philippines. But, the way the line was said, any country’s name could have been picked out of a hat and inserted in the line, and the message would have been the same. In my opinion, the Filipino community needs to tone down its response to this particular situation. Don’t get me wrong; anyone who knows me personally knows that I am among the first to react to prejudice or injustice against Filipinos. Nonetheless, this piece of news does not warrant the attention it is getting. There are far worse things happening to Filipinos to be angry about, like poverty or exploitation of Overseas Filipino Workers. People will forget about this episode and move on.

I acknowledge that anything in the genre of “ethnic comedy” must be handled responsibly, since there will always be the band of idiots out there who will conflate comedy with the truth. However, that is the risk anyone must take in using free speech. We can only hope that our audience has enough common sense to be able to tell the difference.

PEx screen shotThat said, I find what Filipinos have been saying about this episode kind of interesting. In general, there are those who are offended because they feel the statement provides a disservice to the reputation of Filipino health care professionals and then there are those who believe that the statement is a reflection of the perceived deterioration of Philippine health care education (particularly with regards to the recent nurse exam scandal). In both cases, it seems to me that many Filipinos are still very insecure about their global image and tend to use any mention in the global consciousness to gauge their worth as a people. Any visitor to the popular message board PinoyExchange.com will see countless threads discussing why foreigners like Thailand better than the Philippines, why Filipina women marry White men, why whitening soaps are so popular, and why the Philippines will one day fail as a country. Many participants will blame anything from the government to colonial mentality. While external causes certainly play their roles, at the same time, many will rarely or never own up to personal responsibility in the way things are. I was appalled to read several threads blaming and bashing the Chinese-Filipino community for causing poverty in the Philippines. If people really believe that is true, why can’t they get off of the damn Internet and do something to change the way things are? Filipinos need to stop playing the victim and start being proactive. Things here will never change if people keep placing the responsibility on everyone else but themselves.

So, really, this whole debacle has very little to do with racism and much more to do with a prevailing sense of inadequacy. If the Filipino community cared a little more about its own, then, in the end, it won’t matter what other people say (whether in jest or not). Of course, people should not stop standing up for what they believe in, even if some of us find it a little ridiculous and unnecessary. Let’s just try to re-evaluate our priorities a little, OK?

Final verdict: OVERRATED