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Thursday Throwback: The Dead, River Spirits, & a Magic Hat [Racialigious]

This Article was originally published on July 30, 2009

by Guest Contributor Alex Felipe originally published at AlexFelipe.com

Filipinos don’t celebrate Halloween, they instead have a day dedicated to the dead on 1 November, the Araw ng mga Patay [Day of the Dead]. It’s a holiday that is the perfect metaphor for Philippine spirituality: an imported Catholic holiday that hints at an animist past.

Having grown up in Canada I only just recently learned about this tradition, and I experienced my first Araw ng mga Patay only last year. I went to go visit my grandfathers graves, they had both died during the 90s and been brought back to the Phils.

The holiday is an odd one seen through the lens of a Filipino raised in Canada. Families head out to the cemetery to clean the tombs of relatives, bring food, flowers, light candles, and pray. But more or less it just seems like a day where everyone decides to have a family picnic—a picnic that just so happens to be in an insanely crowded cemetery.

It’s an odd sight to be honest. Drunk men playing cards on grave markers next to a family singing karaoke on a portable machine next to parents praying the rosary for a recently deceased child.

Strangely enough, it’s a generally mirthful holiday. There are fast food tents set up in the cemetery just for that day: McDonalds, Jollibee, Greenwich Pizza, Ando’s Chicken, and more—all in the middle of a cemetery.

To my foreign influenced eyes, this holiday seems light and fun; a nice way to remember the past, but in the Phils—despite how casual the atmosphere is—there is a real fear that to not pay respect at the grave of a family member would have severe repercussions from the spirit world.

It’s moments like these that really help remind me of our people’s animist past, and the very real connection to the spirit world that doesn’t exist here in Canada.

 

Tala-andig pre-sacrifice ritual. Miarayon, Mindanao
This past lives on despite, or perhaps more accurately, within the country’s Christian framework. As one Tala-andig tribal leader told me in during a visit to their community in 2005, “In our political system we have to go through channels–barangay captain up to the President. You can’t just talk to the President, first you have to go to the local barangay captain, then to the mayor, then the congressman, etc. It’s the same way with our beliefs. We start with the spirits and work our way up to [the Christian] God.”

I am particularly fascinated by our living family mythology. As a Filipino, even a Filipino in Canada, all our family histories are ripe with this folklore. I am proud to even have a little of it attached to me.

I’d like to share some of these stories with you, old stories that sometimes seem a world away, and make me nostalgic for a place I can’t remember, for spirits that I cannot recall…

My great-grandfather, my paternal lola’s father, was apparently a Spaniard (don’t hold it against me). My Mommy Es (as we call our grandma) tells me that he was an older man in his 50s when he married my great-grandmother who was 18. His name was Gabriel and he was a soldier with Spain when he was younger.

My grandmother didn’t know him very well, he died before she became a teen and he was stern man who only really interacted with his kids to discipline them. One thing she did remember about him was his magic hat.

This hat was one of the family anting-antings [magic talisman]. They were often amulets worn around the neck (most commonly they gave the wearer invincibility against a specific weapon), but they could be anything—in this case, a hat.

Mommy Es first told me about the magic hat in my teens when I was a massive comic book geek and it caught my imagination enough that I have never forgotten the story, and have never forgotten the sense of loss I felt for not having it—but I’m getting ahead of myself.

So he had a magic hat. This hat was said to have an amazing power: he could use it to transport himself anywhere on earth by simply putting on the hat and thinking about the place. It had an unusual caveat: it would only work if the wearer used it in a place where he was out of sight from watching eyes.

I was an atheist as a teen, and I didn’t really believe in its powers, but it intrigued me. Did one have to be completely out of sight or just have no one watching? How far was its range? Did you have to image the place so well that you couldn’t go anywhere that you hadn’t already been? And of course: why didn’t he use it to be a superhero?

The hat was lost during the war with Japan, after my great-grandfather had died. When my Lola’s family was forced to run to flee into the mountains it was left behind. I have no idea how such an important piece of magic could be left behind, I mean you’d think this hat would have been pretty damned useful during a war.

I, of course, also wondered how my Lola could believe in such an outlandish story—and she really believes it was real. She would tell me about how he walk into a room and just disappear or just appear out of no where when she thought she was alone. It’s all just a little creepy if you ask me—knowing that he was a Spaniard in a Philippines just recently free of Spain—to think that he would just appear and disappear randomly through my grandma’s childhood memories.

 

A statue of a child Jesus behind a young man playing a video game. [Manila]
In the mountains my grandmother had a more dangerous run in with another creature of Filipino mythology.

Throughout my life I have always known my Lola to be afraid of rivers and creeks, it originates from the War and the time she was attacked by a river spirit. She tells the story of how she was in her early teens and went out to the river to fetch water. Usually one of the older family members did it but she felt she was old enough. Her family later found her by the river near dead.

They attribute the incident to a run-in with a river spirit that she forgot to ask permission from.

The theme of river spirits continued with me, but in an opposite direction. I’ve always loved small forest rivers and creeks. I can sit by them for hours.

My maternal Lola, we called her ‘Nanay’ [which means “mother”] loves to tell the story of how when I was a toddler I was always running away from home. At first they would get worried (I have no idea how a baby less than two could run away from home, but that’s the story), but they would always find me in the same place. I would run to the creek in the wooded area near our home and play with my friends the duende.

Duende were mischievous spirits that inhabited the land. While the name is Spanish, the spirits are Filipino, stemming from our animist tradition. Duende were mischievous and often played pranks on people. They could also be very dangerous if offended, and they were easily offended (as my Mommy Es’ story shows). But if you were good to them, they were very protective of you.

Nanay would say how she would often find me there and she would see strange things: like how I would apparently be playing with spirits she couldn’t see, she would see me splash water at an invisible friend–and water would splash back.

She marveled at that friendship as duende were usually creatures to be avoided. In stories even those they befriended usually found themselves in serious trouble. I’ve always loved that connection, and when I went back to the Phils to discover that the creek was gone and the area cemented over and covered in homes I felt a real sadness and I truly hoped that my mythological friends were ok.

To this day when I walk through forests, or come to a creek I would bow my head and greet the spirits. And to this day I’ve always felt safe in wild areas—I’ve had quite a few close calls, but I’ve always come out ok.

Now I’m not saying I believe these stories to be literal truth, but there is wonderful metaphorical truth to be found in mythology—it’s the truth that cannot be spoken of in literal terms, the truth that is within all religions, the truth that’s corrupted by those that see only words but can’t grasp their meaning.

One Filipino wrote on an online criticism of the Araw ng mga Patay holiday “I will never understand the Filipino fascination with the dead, much less their superstitious beliefs concerning the dead among us. I prefer to deal with the land of the living. After all, it’s the living people that need our help as we can do nothing for the dead.”

nullI disagree, many of our problems in the Phils and as Filipinos (especially those of us raised outside the homeland) comes from this disconnect between the present and the past, tradition and modernity. In our headlong rush to become equal to the West [whatever that may mean], we are quickly discarding our mythologies instead of allowing them to evolve. This stupidity is an attempt to strip us of our relationship to the land, each other, and the past.

But these stories live in us whether we want them to or not because our parents, our grandparents, and our families have lived with these stories and they have influenced how they act and how they have raised us.

Tradition is not a static creature. It lives and evolves within the people they inhabit. We cannot remove ourselves from it any more than we can try to remove our blood from our bodies. We can definitely try, and I know too many that do, but the sad result helps neither the living nor the dead.


(all images: ©2005-07 alex felipe / All Rights Reserved)

The Walking Dead Roundtable 4.14 “The Grove”

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Hosted by Jeannie Chan

Three guesses what’s going to happen on this week’s episode of TWD with Lizzie’s face all over the previews. We watched and cringed while she named and chatted up walkers at the prison fence last season. We watched and cringed as she tried to suffocate Judith. We’ve been building up to this so time to watch the time bomb that is Lizzie’s psychosis explode. Read on as Rob Errera, Nicole Norkin and I try to make some sense out of this.

(Spoilers under cut)

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Whiteness, Hip Hop Culture, and Invisible Backpacks

We wanted to save this video for Friday, but in light of Macklemore winning Best Rap Album and then tweeting his apologies to Kendrick Lamar, this video exploring white privilege in the hip hop community is worth a listen. Longtime community member El Guante is joined by The Big Cats, Rapper Hooks, and Chantz Erolin break down why Macklemore’s race isn’t the problem, but how defenses designed to ignore racism continue to harm the community. Lyrics after the jump.

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Who Didn’t See This Coming?: Cracker Barrel Doubles Down on Duck Dynasty

A Cracker Barrel restaurant via NY Daily News

Last week Arturo reminded Duck Dynasty fans of what hadn’t gotten newly revealed (“newly” for those of us who still have no idea what a Duck Dynasty is, at least) homophobe and racist Phill Robertson suspended from the hit A&E show. Since the decision A&E has remained strangely mum on the topic, while others like Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee, and Bobby Jindal have chimed in attempting to make the tenuous state of the show and Robertson’s future an issue of 1st amendment rights.

In a slightly tangential turn of events Cracker Barrel took a stand against Roberstson’s comments, pledging to pull all Duck Dynasty merchandise from their shelves. (Yes, you too can buy a Duck Dynasty Talking Keychain while eating away your Saturday night kegger hangover in AnyTown, Ohio!) It was a decent gesture, especially given that the merchandise practically flew off the shelves at Walmart after the GQ controversy broke in a sad show of support for the brand . However two days after making the promise –and still, with no word from A&E– this message was found on Cracker Barrel’s official Facebook page:

Dear Cracker Barrel Customer:

When we made the decision to remove and evaluate certain Duck Dynasty items, we offended many of our loyal customers. Our intent was to avoid offending, but that’s just what we’ve done.

You told us we made a mistake. And, you weren’t shy about it. You wrote, you called and you took to social media to express your thoughts and feelings. You flat out told us we were wrong.

We listened.

Today, we are putting all our Duck Dynasty products back in our stores.

And, we apologize for offending you.

We respect all individuals right to express their beliefs. We certainly did not mean to have anyone think different.

We sincerely hope you will continue to be part of our Cracker Barrel family.

The post gained over 1000 likes in the time it took to copy and paste the statement from there to here and currently stands upwards of 68,000.

This is probably a great time to remind anyone who’s surprised by this 180 turn of events that in 2004 Cracker Barrel was sued by 21 people in a $100 million federal lawsuit alleging a nationwide trend of discriminatory service that ranged from segregating Black families from other customers to outright refusing to serve them at all. It was the largest lawsuit of its kind since Denny’s in 1994; it settled for $8.7 million. In 2008 they received a 15 out of 100 from the Human Rights Watch on their LGBTQ Corporate Equality Index and had only managed to raise it to a 50 in 2011.

In the case of Cracker Barrel and Duck Dynasty, birds of a feather really do flock together.

Thanksgiving is Complicated

Every year, Thanksgiving rolls around, and every year, we wonder exactly what to say. Enjoy the holiday? Reflect on colonization? Boycott some kind of whitewashing? This year, we’re going to share one of our favorite mashups – Once Tongue Tied, which we shared in 2010 when we spotted it on the Sociological Images blog.

Once Tongue Tied was created by Samantha Figueroa who takes Adriel Luis’s amazing spoken word piece “Slip of the Tongue” and combines it with scenes from Pocahontas, transforming both works into new commentary.

Here’s the video.

If you are interested in the text of Luis’s poem, click here.

However, you choose to spend this holiday (with family, in reflection, or if it’s just another day) enjoy!

Racialicious Review: The Citizen

Khaled Nabawy in a scene from "The Citizen"

Khaled Nabawy in a scene from “The Citizen”

By Guest Contributor Nour Soubani

The recent independent film, The Citizen, raises a number of important questions related to identity, belonging, and representation that are relevant and challenging to many American communities at large today.

Ibrahim, a middle-aged Lebanese man, wakes up one day and actualizes his dream: he wins a ticket from the Green Card Lottery to come to America. He lands in New York on September 10th, 2001, and befriends Diane, an attractive white American woman who is just escaping an abusive relationship. The next fateful morning is the September 11th attack, and the rest of the movie follows Ibrahim’s experience as an Arab Muslim in a post-9/11 New York City, the relationships he builds with Diane and those who both support and villainize him, and his interactions with the law.

 Ibrahim, although not a legal citizen, is painted as the ideal American: He helps the homeless, works an honest job, and intervenes at a crime scene to save a man’s life. Although he looks distinctly Arab, and some suspicion is raised that he is related to one of the hijackers, there is a clear assertion throughout the movie that Ibrahim is completely disconnected from the evil terrorists who attacked the United States, and from the Middle East as a whole. In fact, multiple times throughout the film he expresses how grateful he is to leave Lebanon, to come to America and pursue “the American Dream”, and to leave behind his penniless and unsuccessful life. While the protagonist’s morals and values are virtuous—this was enough to make the audience fall in love with him—his character functions with a subtle undertone that reinforces a binaric hierarchy between the U.S. and the rest, one that inevitably places America at the top. Ibrahim comes to the United States to make something of himself; the storyline implies that this was inherently not possible where he came from, nor were any efforts to do so valued and encouraged. He is portrayed as an exception to the rule—a respectable, mannered, responsible and hardworking individual, who, with these admirable, individualist traits, clearly does not belong in the Arab world. The character of Ibrahim—while well-intentioned—in fact plays into Orientalist notions that otherize the Middle East, creating an unknown, inferior entity out of it that inherently does not hold the same purely “American” values that cause Ibrahim to succeed.

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The Walking Dead Roundtable 4.4: “Indifference”

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Hosted by Jeannie Chan

I’m so glad to see such great comments posted to the open thread for last week’s episode. If there’s one thing we’ve learned from watching this show, it’s that there’s no such thing as an easy decision, let alone a right one. It’s clear that the camp is conflicted with Rick deciding for everyone and cast out Carol. And we’re all still wrestling with Carol’s decision to kill. Read on to see how Carly Mitchell, Kiki Smith, Nicole Norkin (our newest Roundtabler!) and I process everythang.

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Open Thread: Kerry Washington hosts Saturday Night Live

Image via Vibe.com

By Kendra James

With the combined fire power of a few cute empire waists, boxy tops, and racial stereotypes, Kerry Washington became one of a handful of Black women to host Saturday Night Live in its 30+ year history. Given the recent controversy surrounding the lack of color in the SNL cast, its understandable that the show would be eager to face the topic head on. Asking Washington to host was a nice first step, but they seem content to stop there.

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Scrolling text in Kerry Washington’s SNL cold open, via Mashable

Sure, SNL addressed their lack of Black women directly in the cold open, but joking about the glaring absence really loses all effectiveness if you don’t take steps to fix it immediately after. Addressing your own racist casting practices as a joke makes you seem less like a writer’s room full of subversive humourist savants than it does a room full of white privileged writers. The screen caps above represent a joke that could only retain legs if at the end of the show they’d announced the addition of a full time Black female cast member.

Of course, after seeing the sketches Washington was thrown into –especially in the first half of the show– it’s probably worth wondering how well a Black woman would fare in this era of SNL. With a sketches that included a mouthy, angry Black girlfriend, a BAPs style Black ghetto girl, an Ugandan beauty queen who reeked of Eddie Murphy’s “what have you done for me lately” bit from Raw, and the best Angela Davis impression she could muster, Washington and the SNL writers were one weave joke away from a stereotypical Black woman full sweep.

Washington put her all into everything she was given (as did Jay Pharoah, who was in all but 2 sketches on Saturday night, “because,” said the writer’s room, “if they want Black people then, goddamnit, we are going to give them black people! Take that, critics.”) but surely there have been several other hosts from popular breakout television shows who’ve knocked their hosting nights out of the park without relying on racial humour to take them through. Jon Hamm comes to mind. Unfortunately, where someone like Jon Hamm seems to inspire new, original material, the SNL writers room looked at Kerry Washington and clearly decided that with the plethora of jokes people have been making about Black women for years, they already had all they needed.

The only sketch that seemed as if it had any input from a non white writer included the Angela Davis impression mentioned above. I really do wish my white friends would stop telling me to watch The Wire. But for the most part, I still have to disagree with Kenan Thompson’s recent comments about there being no Black female comedians who are ready for SNL. It’s the SNL writers who aren’t ready for Black women.

The rest of Saturday night’s sketches are underneath the cut. What do you think, readers?

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