Monday, July 9


The one time I had experienced discrimination in life was when I had a relationship with a foreign man. I met him when I was a little orphan girl back in the province. My friends and I were doing volunteer work one hot summer for an orphanage near my home, and there were a bunch of blokes from australia who came over to build classrooms in poor communities, under the auspices of apex, a civic club probably equivalent to our jaycees. Not having had any close brush with people of a different skin color, the girls and I, naturally couldn’t contain our curiosity with the white people. You know how in your naïve mind you generalize people with white skin color as americans? It wasn’t a few times that I heard an exchange of hey joes with the whites and the local people who looked permanently wide-eyed, agape, or an O forming on their lips.

I mean could you tell the nationalities anyway, when you are young, or even old enough, never been outside your province, and already half-condemned to a life of veiled realism, and obscurity? It was only many years afterwards that it sunk in, that australia is in fact, not anywhere near america, but many worlds apart. I wonder how the aussies felt at the allusion then, but I am sure they did not mind a lot. I think it was enough that people had regarded them with such interest, as though there were aliens from outer space, with completely curious eye colors, hair colors, skin colors, and an absolutely indiscernible speaking tongue.

There was a bunch of them from different walks of life –doctors, engineers, teachers. They traveled and came here together as builders with their own tools and a lot of eagerness to meet people and to immerse themselves, however briefly, in a rather bewildering culture that is ours. As volunteers, we girls taught catechism subjects to the little orphans for the length of summer. Since the classrooms were being built, we held these short classes under the trees. Working in rather close proximity and a warm atmosphere with them, the girls I was with had started to inch their way to becoming friends with most of the men. But I had remained quiet, unrelenting, timid and shy.I don’t remember ever once having talked with any one of them as I was afraid that their words would be incomprehensible to me, or worse, I would be caught tongue-tied when spoken to, and end up looking like a total fool. Nonetheless, their project and the summer came to a close. We were employed to plan a culmination program when they, the apec guys, would turn over the classrooms to the nuns who were running the place. The event went well. But before everyone could turn to leave, there was an exchange of addresses, and tokens to give and receive. The girls were ecstatic, but I could only manage to say hello and goodbye to one guy, and in fact had someone give me a rather unpleasant elbow on the rib so I could trade addresses with him. Thus ended my summer when I was fifteen. I put everything behind me as school begged in.

Little did I know that the guy would figure mainly in my single life.

He sent me his first letter the moment he got back home and settled in. He wrote from when I was fifteen until I was already working here in Manila a decade later. In every ten letters he wrote, I answered one. I’d moved to different places, but he always managed to seek me out. He wrote endlessly about his life, and even though I volunteered very little information of myself and was on the brink of writing him off, he still wrote. Then one day he came again and I met him. And as he had always hoped, we were now both sitting across the same table, face to face, smiling, he much older, and I all grown up and a woman. And there we were, exchanging pleasantries and talking about our respective lives. It was the first time everything he wrote all those years really made sense to me. Things got better and better, and when I woke up from all the pleasantness and reverie, I realized that we were a couple.

Suddenly we were doing things together, planning trips together, and I was spending my weekends with him up the cold north. The six-hour bus trips I had to endure on the way up and back down felt nothing when I had only held on to the excitement of being with him again. In other words, it was nice and fuzzy feeling to be with someone who cared a lot for you, and vice versa. Then I started meeting his friends. They were all rather pleasant and good people, but as I was an insufferably timid person, I didn’t always get to advance my friendships with them, not without some prodding from him. Now that I think about it, I think it’s really me. But you know that when you’re trying not to be overly sensitive about things, you feel worse about it ? That unbeknownst to your partner, you are ill at ease with the crowd he is with, but still you try to meld in, because it is what pleases him?

I think he wouldn't have known about how I felt, because I never told him so. But in one or two instances, I think that I could not anymore close off my eyes and say it was pure coincidence, or I was deliberately trying to make a poor excuse of my sorry prevaricating self. I felt that I was being looked down upon, and regarded with different eyes because I was with someone whose skin color was different from mine. Is it bigotry? I sure hope not.

But there were others still. An incident when I overheard a conversation between a hotel owner and our common friend who called to book us but was asked if I was “dirty”, and she was assured that I wasn’t. And another time when we had to stay overnight at his friend’s house, and there were looks that doubted who I was and from whence I came, or maybe, what I was doing with a white man. But nothing could have been more hurtful than having to be invited at an intimate party of predominantly white, in fact I was the only brown girl in the crowd. I was told a few days then, the owner has lost her diamond ring that night, was looking all around the next day, saying that there only a “few” people in the party---but found it down the kitchen sink soon afterwards. I mean, what??? What did I have to be told about that for? I had to take a careful look at myself in the mirror once and ask… Did I dress like a slut? Certainly not!!! Did I talk like a trashy bitch? As far as I know, I had only been most polite and careful with my words. Do I look like someone who would steal?? Now, this really enraged me inside. Because I had never ever found myself, nor an infinitesimal fraction of who I am, having been interested in another’s possession and coveted it to want to steal it. Not me. Not in this lifetime. And that is why I changed towards him, or them, all for the worst of it, or maybe for the better of it. I don’t know. He was still full of candor and childish naiveté, or maybe a warped mind, until the day we said goodbye.

That is not really why we ended our four-year relationship though, but sad as it is, I recount those incidents now with a slight regret, of why I never really rose up to it and said something, why I evaded having to show umbrage and perhaps teach them a lesson about condescension and arrogance. Why I always believe that people are good, or not so bad as they are and that they deserve some kind of chance and redemption….But why I always end up hurting, even when I thought the ball had already been bouncing the right way.

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