- Boo Chanco - The Philippine Star

LOS ANGELES – It’s that time of the year when I take a vacation from Metro Manila’s traffic jams to join family on the other side of the Pacific Ocean. Due to their work requirements, my kids can only take a week off for Christmas and going home seems too much an effort to take for too little vacation time. It is easier and cheaper for me and my wife to go here instead.

One of my daughters is a public school teacher and she opts to go home between June and September when school here is on vacation. The usual Christmas reunion of my extended family of cousins has also moved to Rancho Cucamonga, a bit of a drive from downtown Los Angeles. There seems to be more of my immediate Chanco cousins on this side of the pond than back home.

This year’s visit here is also special because my 92-year old mother-in-law agreed to travel. With the exception of my wife, all her children and all of her grandchildren and great grandchildren are in the Greater Los Angeles area. I figured she may be getting a bit lonely to be away from everybody except us and while she can still travel, she might as well do that.

We got here middle of last week. From some conversations with Fil-Ams, there appears to be a lot of interest on what is going on back home. Many are amused, many more are concerned about recent political developments.

Thanks to the TFC of ABS-CBN and of course social media, Fil-Ams are well informed on the latest twists and turns of the political campaign trail. That unfortunate exchange of challenges between Mar Roxas and Rody Duterte amused and appalled folks here. Many decry the lack of maturity of both candidates that led to the sampalan, suntukan and gun duel challenges.

I have been asked a number of times what I thought of the election and the candidates. I have been asked who I was voting for. Tough questions to answer, I always replied I haven’t really made up my mind other than voting for Leni Robredo for vice president.

On the flight to this city from NAIA, I sat next to a Pinoy immigrant who left the Philippines in the early ’80s when the country was all but bankrupt as the Marcos regime declared a moratorium on debt servicing.

A graduate of La Salle whose business now covers computers among others, my seatmate said he does not regret having made the decision to leave over 30 years ago. He regularly visits the Philippines and he observed the country has consistently deteriorated and he blames our country’s leadership over those past decades for our sad state of affairs.

Like many Fil-Ams I have talked to through the years, it is easy to sense a strong attachment to the motherland amidst some sadness and a lot of frustration about what he observed is a deterioration in the quality of our lives. Manila traffic was my seatmate’s most horrible experience.

Apparently, in an earlier visit this year, he missed his flight home because it took him longer than usual to get to the airport. He also commented his recent visits were not as productive because he is forced to limit his movements in one or two parts of the metropolis out of fear of being stuck in our notorious traffic jams.

I didn’t have the heart to tell him how our national leadership feels about those traffic jams. The poor guy hasn’t heard both P-Noy and Mar Roxas remark that those traffic jams are signs of progress. He would have felt even worse about our state of affairs if he found out how our leaders think.

You know, my seatmate told me, I do not understand what is wrong. They say our problem is cultural, but when Pinoys are abroad they follow the rules and have proven themselves exemplary. Yet, he pointed out, there were times I see the same people go home and they are back to their old selves.

What can I say? An American essayist blamed our problems to a “damaged culture.” Heneral Luna said pretty much the same thing in between his crunchy “punyetas”. We are our worse enemies, the general was reported to have said and he is still  right a century later.

Then I was asked if I thought Duterte would be a good president. I always say it would be hard to tell. Davao City is not the country. And I also do not know who Duterte is bringing with him to Malacanang, if he wins.

What he has going for him is his anti-establishment stance. This is probably the first time someone can be considered a serious presidential contender who is not with the Imperial Manila establishment. His raising that Wharton issue with Roxas was probably his way of accentuating their difference to cement his mass support.

But I am sure Duterte is no Lee Kuan Yew. The world view of Lee Kuan Yew is as vital to a country’s leader as his or her ability to instil discipline and put our destructive elite in place. Yet, I will not belittle the importance of Duterte’s political instincts, his common sense approach to dealing with problems like what to do with China.

It is also a long time between now and May 2016 and many things can still happen that will determine our path after P-Noy. Whoever becomes our president will have to carry the burden of the past… the lack of performance… endemic corruption and a government with little sense of public service.

Filipino-Americans are about 20 percent of Asian Americans, second only to the Chinese in number. But American Pinoys tend to blend better than most and are not known to be as cohesive as others like the Indians, Koreans or Vietnamese. There is a standing joke here that there are as many Filipino American Associations as there are those who want to be president.

As the more recent wave of Pinoy immigrants grow old and die out, the second generation feels less attachment to the motherland. Even in my own family, I could sense that after my kids, their children would be so absorbed into the American mainstream for them to feel anything other than being American.

Still, I have heard of Pinoy parents who make sure their children still speak Pilipino, enrolling them in Pilipino language courses and bringing them back home for visits. While the immigrant generation may still have a heart that beats and yearns for the motherland, the next generation has to be given a good reason to be proud of their heritage.

My three year old half Argentinian grandson loves Jollibee and regularly gets his palabok from a nearby Jollibee branch. His favorite breakfast is tuyo with fried eggs and fried rice. We brought Mary Grace ensaymadas and cheese roll they liked during their last home visit as pasalubong. Maybe the taste buds would be a good place to start building on the connection to the motherland but we definitely need more emotional pegs.

That’s why beyond Manny the PacMan, we need to present the next generation of Fil-Ams a country they can be proud of. We are nowhere near doing that. Indeed, many of our countrymen would likely want to migrate to the US given the chance.

My flight seatmate told me that he and his family are happy in their Cerritos home. I got the impression his kids, who were all born here, no longer have the emotional ties to the motherland. But then, who says they won’t turn out like Paul Rivera who migrated with his parents to the US when he was five years old.

After a stint at Google, Rivera went back to the motherland and founded Kalibrr, a start-up that is disrupting the way local companies handle their recruitment. Rivera told me he is back in the Philippines to stay and his background and training abroad are important assets that we can use.

Without generalizing, I want to think that despite everything else that may be wanting back home, some international Pinoys will have enough emotional or practical reasons to want to do something for or in the motherland. They may speak and sound like Americans, but like Paul, took their chance to return and establish their family and home in good ol’ Pilipinas.

The full flights of Philippine Airlines during this holiday season is a manifestation of this urge to keep the ties at home and perhaps, even nurture a thought about retiring back home. Otherwise, why else would they want to risk tanim bala and EDSA’s monstrous traffic jams during regular home visits?

Boo Chanco’s e-mail address is [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @boochanco.













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