Monday, November 20, 2006

Emotional Bulimia

As I trudged up the hill to my apartment from the bus stop, I considered the possibility of writing a memoir before I finish my novel. Now, this could just be another trick, a distraction that my mind is throwing into the ring of my consciousness to keep me from finishing the sci-fi/fantasy novel I started almost six years ago. Or, it could be my consciousness' way of demanding space and attention for my lifestory. Indeed, as I listened to my knees creak during the last few paces at the top of the hill, I realized, 'I am not getting any younger.'

I have done many things that most people never get a chance to do. Protested in front of the White House. Raised $100K-plus for an organization I care about. Confronted my abuser (my step-father) about the sexual abuse he perpetrated on me. Traveled to Cuba. Gotten arrested on Market Street for 'harassing' a police officer. Stayed at a commune on the California-Oregon border, complete with communal 'shitter' (outhouse) and naked men cooking me breakfast. I have a lot of material to work with.

And I wonder if I should do this before the novel because so much of 'me' is coming out in Tala Zaal, my protagonist; and I wonder if it's because I haven't gotten enough of the 'real me' out into my essays, blogs, diaries, etc.? Does the 'real Rona' need to get some stuff off her chest and out into the world before the fictional characters that populate my imagination can fully realize themselves?

Perhaps it's the winter holiday season (also the season of my birthday) that brings upon this introspective thought-train. Winter has always been a time of turning inwards for me, of examining what I want to be getting out of my life and what I want don't want to be. It is a time of reckoning, of evaluation, of turning to look at the year (or years) past and ask myself, 'What am I proud of? What have I accomplished? Am I any closer to leaving a mark on this world? Am I happy?'

I was told today by an author and fellow fundraiser that I admire greatly that she really enjoyed my blogpost on 'An Inconvenient Truth'. I'm sure that's one of the reasons this crazy idea of a memoir is haunting my thoughts. And the fact that the day after tomorrow is Thanksgiving/taking and I haven't any real plan for celebrating or non-celebrating the holiday for the first time in probably my whole life is quite sobering, and liberating at the same time.

I guess I think a memoir could serve as a means of catharsis, or a kind of emotional bulimia--I've scarfed down all these experiences, emotions, ideas, etc. and I want to puke them out into the world. Clear my system, as it were. Not a pretty image but it feels right. And sometimes--no, often--real healing and the moving forward that follows soon after is not pretty, but it is right, and necessary, and unavoidable.

Thoughts, anyone?

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Tempest? More Like a Drizzle

Got my November issue of Filipinas magazine and saw that the 'Bebot' video had made a cover headline. Of course, FilMag is coming to the party a little late, as this 'controversy' has been swirling around the Internet for a few months now, and seems to have pretty much died down. I hadn't paid much attention to the brouhaha myself--I first saw the open letter that 13 academics had signed on to accusing the Black Eyed Peas' 'Bebot' video of being degrading to Pinays and thought it sounded a bit silly and tired--until I read the FilMag article, but I find the whole situation rather amusing from my unique 'insider-outsider' position.

Why 'insider-outsider'? I'm Pinay (born in the US) and I happen to know or know of a few of the people who signed the letter. I'm college-educated (UC Berkeley cum laude 1995), consider myself a feminist and radical activist, and have been tangentially involved in Filipino-American politics for the last ten years or so. I've 'been there done that' when it comes to protesting 'stereotypical' representations of people of color, women, etc. I also love to dance salsa, reggaeton, even hip-hop and go to clubs every so often. Lastly, I work at an organization that works mostly with high school-age youth, so I know from firsthand experience what young people are listening to, dancing to, and wearing these days.

I actually didnt' see the 'Bebot' video until today, when I was compelled to finally see what all the fuss was about. And I have to admit, I kept waiting for the 'offensive', 'degrading' images of Pinays to appear. Maybe I've spent too much time outside academia and in the real world, or maybe I've been desensitized by the much more raunchy lyrics and images I hear and see in other hip-hop music and videos, but I didn't see what the big deal was. The video just looked like a bunch of Pinoys at a party. The girls weren't super-scantily dressed by regular rap-video standards--which I admit are pretty low, but I've seen 40-year-old women at salsa clubs wear less than what some of those young Pinays were wearing. I didn't see any crazy grinding and lapdancing happening in the video, which seems to be par for the course in other rap videos nowadays. There were even b-girls doing their thing, not wearing bikinis like they might in a Jay-Z video but wearing jeans and t-shirts. And I didn't see any close-up booty-shots of Pinays in butt-hugging Daisy Dukes.

All in all, it looked a little bit like a scene out of 'The Debut', with more of a hip-hop/urban edge. I don't think anyone would call that movie degrading to Pinays. Maybe a little mainstream and 'stereotypical' in its portrayal of 'good Filipino girls', yes, but degrading? I don't think so.

I still don't get what the fuss was all about, or why the Black Eyed Peas and their supporters even felt the need to respond to the 13 academics. Does 13 people publishing an open letter about a music video that maybe a few milion people have seen and probably like or didn't even think twice about merit being called a 'tempest' as the Filipinas Magazine called it? Was this really a 'storm of controversy'?

The letter actually reminded me a lot of feminists like Andrea Dworkin who think porn and Playboy and really, anything remotely sexual, are the most vile things on the planet. I disagree. While I agree with the academics that Pinays are portrayed in degrading and over-sexualized ways in the majority of mainstream American media, I also think that it's okay to show Pinays dancing in a club with their bellies bared and not be degrading them. Their rhetoric almost borders on being puritanical, and since I know these folks are educated Fil-Ams, I doubt that their concerns regarding this video are moralistic in a Catholic way.

It's funny, because when I went to Cuba, the women and girls there dress very provocatively (more provocatively than in the 'Bebot' video, for sure), but at the same time are empowered with accessible and free birth control and reproductive health options that keep them more in control of their bodies and their sexuality than many Third World women. Also, beauty wasn't limited to only skinny or light-skinned women, but women of all body types and skin colors. Sexuality and sensuality between men and women is very open and normal in Cuban society, where men winking or whistling at women is common and not simply a sign of 'degradation.' That experience taught me that just because a woman was being seen as a sexual being didn't mean she was being degraded. I wonder if we'll ever get to that enlightened place in this country, or at least in the Filipino-American community. I'm not holding my breath for that moment, though.

All this is to say is that I still don't get what all the fuss is about. I like the song, I like the video (although I liked the original 'Generation One' version better for its portrayal of Filipino manongs in Stockton), and that's about it. Does it play into the American male fantasy of the docile, oversexualized Pinay? Probably, but so do non-scantily clad young Pinays walking down the street together. I don't think this video contributes to that stereotype in a gross way. Does that stereotypical image exist? Of course. If people want to change the fact that images of scantily clad, booty-shaking women are part of music labels' commercial formula for hip-hop music videos, by all means go ahead and do so. But send your protest letter to the people with power--the music labels--not the artists, who in this case had wanted a different video, one with more political overtones, shown in the first place.

Maybe folks should spend more time trying to make images of Pinays that they feel are positive rather than just criticizing others for trying to do the same. Or making sure that all women have access to economic and sexual health choices that give them the option to be sexual or not, with whomever they want.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Naked, Elections

Did that get your attention?

I thought I'd break my blog silence because I Googled myself today (as I do every so often just to see what the world's been saying about me---usually not a whole lot but sometimes an interesting tidbit pops up) and I saw that 'Rina Fernandez naked' popped up as the first hit. Now, I still don't really know who Rina Fernandez is (a B-list Latina actress I think) but I sure as hell don't want her naked picture link to pop us when someone Googles MY name.

The other reason I thought I'd call off my blog-break is because this Tuesday is an important election here in Oakland, and especially in my neighborhood: Aimee Allison is about to (hopefully) unseat special-elections-incumbent Pat Kernighan for the District 2 City Council seat. This is an important seat to win, with Ron Dellums coming into office in January 2007 and the Oakland City Council still fairly dominated by corporate/downtown development sympathizers who have made it very difficult for progressive activists to make any positive change in Oakland over the past several years. With a real progressive on the Council and Ron Dellums in the Mayor's office, we'd have a better chance of seeing some important changes take place, including more affordable housing, better jobs, and a lower homicide/ crime rate in Oakland.

So if you live in District 2 and you're registered to vote, please vote for Aimee Allison. She's a political outsider who's down with the people, for God's sake. And if there's one less thing we need in Oakland it's a cog in the De La Fuente political machine.

There's also a bunch of other good and nasty stuff on this November's ballot (like Proposition 85, which would make it mandatory for girls under 18 to tell their parents if they are planning to have an abortion). I pretty much agree with everything the San Francisco Bay Guardian has to stay about this election, so print and take it with you to the polls.

Happy voting,