Wednesday, November 23, 2011


My posts for Feet in 2 Worlds, WNYC's It's A Free Country, Urban Institute's MetroTrends Blog, the Nonprofit Quarterly, and other outlets are now gathered in my new website OP-e. Just click on the link and see you there!

Friday, June 24, 2011

Death is Just So Inconvenient

A friend from grad school died less than two week ago. She had completed her doctoral degree last year and had moved to Washington, D.C. with her fiancé early this spring to start the job she always wanted. Ten days before she collapsed, she had given birth to their beautiful daughter.

A church family member and motherly figure to me and my husband died last night. She had retired from a long career in education a couple of years ago and had just stepped down as the senior lay leader of our parish a few weeks ago. When she hit her head and fainted last night, she had been working on old documents and photos at the church office.

Death is just so inconvenient. My young friend was starting a family and embarking on an exciting new career. She came to Washington to make a difference, to continue the work with refugees and immigrants she had started in Nebraska. My church mother was working on our archives and learning to master her new computer in order to catalogue and safeguard our parish family’s history as we celebrate our centennial and plan for the next hundred years.

The death of both women have painfully disrupted and rudely upended the lives of their family and friends. Daily routine has been derailed, long term plans canceled. Those of us who grieve go about in a haze, hearts profoundly heavy, trying our best to get through the day.

But at a memorial service for my grad school buddy a couple of days ago, we smiled amidst tears as we remembered how our friend supported and cheered us on as she struggled with her own research and thesis. Last night as my husband and I consoled each other over the loss of our beloved sister, we recalled how she regaled us with her stories and lifted us with her hearty and infectious laugh. I wanted nothing more then than a slice of her lard-laden sweet potato bread.

Death IS inconvenient. It forces us to stop. It also gives us the chance to think back, celebrate and be comforted by the love and lives of the ones we lost. Farewell sisters and thank you.

Image by George Gozum.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Light at the End of the Tunnel for Gay Binational Couples?

A couple of days ago, I wrote a post for Integrity USA encouraging those of us who care about the plight of gay binational couples to curb our enthusiasm:
At the end of last week, a couple of news items raised the hopes of gay binational couples, their families and allies. Again.

On Thursday, Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. suspended the deportation of a gay Irishman, Paul Dorman, who is joined with an American in a civil union and instructed the courts to look into the possibility of Dorman staying based on his union. The following day, a federal immigration judge stopped the deportation of a Venezuelan man at the eleventh hour, apparently spurred by the Attorney General’s move. Henry Valandia, who is married to American, can remain in the country for now while the Obama administration and the Justice Department figure out what to do with legally married gay binational couples entangled in our dysfunctional immigration system.

While I am delighted for both couples, the fact remains that all they have been granted is a reprieve. As a matter of fact, the Justice Department cautioned on Saturday that that it will continue to enforce the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) which bars the U.S. government from recognizing gay marriages. There is no guarantee that the courts will rule in favor of Dorman and he may be sent back to Ireland. Valandia will have to appear in front of an immigration judge in December and he may also be separated from his husband and deported back to Venezuela.

The raw reality for thousands of married gay binational couples is that their families can easily be broken. They do not have the protections and privileges granted married straight couples. Their unions do not amount to much beyond the borders of the states and jurisdictions that have legalized or recognize marriage for all Americans. Bottom line is, gay citizens and permanent residents, unlike their straight counterparts, still cannot sponsor their loved ones for a green card because of DOMA. Immigration falls under the purview of the federal government and there is no more straightforward and simple solution as the repeal of DOMA. Only Congress or the Supreme Court can get rid of this unjust law and by the look of things, this is not going to happen anytime soon.

I am the foreign-born half of a binational couple myself and I could certainly use some good news. However, I have been wrestling with the broken immigration system and the inequity wrought on queer people in America for over twenty years that last week’s developments did not get me excited, much less hopeful for a resolution in the near future.

Rather, this got me concerned that some gay binational couples might think they’re out of the woods, apply for green cards, and thus expose themselves to the very real possibility of their families torn apart by the government. Likewise, our community and allies might think that this fight is over and stop pressuring our elected officials to end the unfair treatment of married couples that happen to be gay.

Our memories tend to be short. It was just a few weeks ago when many of us got all in a tizzy because the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services announced a hold on cases in which green cards petitioned by gay Americans for their spouses were denied because of DOMA. Then and now, well-meaning friends have come up to me saying, “This is great news, isn’t it? This solves your immigration issue!”

Well, it doesn’t. So we need to curb our enthusiasm, roll up our sleeves and get back to work.
Yesterday, Chris Geidner pointed out that in an extensive speech about comprehensive immigration reform earlier that day, President Obama had left out the issue of gay binational couples. This comes as no surprise. If any constituent were to be thrown under the bus, it would be the gays. In the unlikely event that immigration reform is actually tackled by Congress in the near future, guess which group will be first to be sacrificed by the Democrats? Yup, you guessed it. Gay binational couples.

So there. No need to get all excited folks.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

An intimate and true Italian-American wedding

Last week, I was fortunate to witness a wedding ceremony which, in my mind, should be the way nuptials ought to be. The couple opted out of the usual extravagance, not feeling beholden to tradition, familial and societal expectations, or calculated returns. It was not about the clothes, flowers, gifts, guests or party. It was not about either one of them. In a small stone church, it was purely about love and commitment. It was just the two of them, the officiating minister, and a handful of family and friends.

Marco, the Italian groom, said that while most nuptials are an expression of a hope – a hope that the union stands the test of time – this one was a commemoration of a bond that has survived strong and intact after over two decades of living together as individuals and as a couple.

Most people spend so much money, energy and good will to put on a show on their wedding day. Most of us have bought into the hype and the marriage industry is benefiting royally. Sadly, many marriages end up in divorce.

I think unions should be feted. Celebrations however, should start modest and get bigger as couples mark more years together. Let the cake tower, the champagne overflow and the music blare after the commitment has been proven not when it is just about to be tested.

Marco and Bob’s love and dedication to one another deserves a big fat wedding – they’ve been inseparable for 23 years. They were not expressing a hope but rather affirming what already is. Yet they chose a quiet ceremony followed by a simple meal with those closest to them. To me, this marriage rings true more so than other extravaganzas I’ve attended. Salute!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

From the New York Times: For Catholics, Open Attitudes on Gay Issues

By Austine Cosidine for the New York Times

AS the tranquil tones of church bells and choirs usher in another Easter Sunday, you may hear stirrings of controversy beneath those sounds — set to the pounding of a Lady Gaga tune.

It’s no accident that Lady Gaga decided to release the video for her provocative single, “Judas,” this Easter. From wearing see-through nun habits to suggestively swallowing a rosary, the pop star, who was raised a Catholic, has consistently prodded her faith’s strict sexual conventions.

But if Lady Gaga has managed to offend some Catholics, her progressiveness, specifically her support for gay equality, reflects a genuine cultural moment. A recent study indicates that today’s Catholics are the most progressive Christians in the country regarding gay equality — and more open than Americans in general.

Last month, the Public Religion Research Institute, a nonprofit group, reported that 74 percent of American Catholics surveyed supported the rights of same-sex couples to marry or form civil unions (43 percent and 31 percent, respectively). The telephone survey asked more than 3,000 adults to choose among three options: whether gay couples should be allowed to marry, should be allowed to form civil unions or should receive no legal recognition. By comparison, 16 percent of white evangelical Christians approved of same-sex marriages; 24 percent approved of civil unions. Among the general public, those rates climb to 37 and 27 percent, respectively — still lower than among Catholics.

Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, an independent group that has worked on gay Catholic issues since 1977, said he had seen Catholics open up in recent years. His group maintains a list of “gay-friendly parishes and faith communities” around the country, which has grown to more than 200 from about 20 since 1997.

Church traditions in social-justice advocacy play a strong role, he said. “These people aren’t picking and choosing their Catholicism; their Catholicism has motivated them.”

Official church policy is tough on gay issues: homosexual acts are deemed sinful (though being homosexual is not); same-sex marriage is forbidden. Embracing diversity while toeing the Vatican line requires a delicate balance.

Some seek nontraditional ministry. Dignity New York, a chapter of Dignity USA, an independent gay ministry group, has liturgical services especially for gay Catholics, given mostly by nonactive priests, at St. John’s in the Village, an Episcopal church.

Yet Catholic churches from Texas to Wisconsin find ways to be welcoming. St. Francis Xavier in Chelsea, the Oratory Church of St. Boniface in Brooklyn and many others are known for programs offering spiritual and intellectual fulfillment for gay Catholics in a context once perceived as hostile.

The Rev. Gilbert Martinez, pastor at St. Paul the Apostle, a gay-friendly parish near Lincoln Center, said the study did not surprise him: Catholics have always struggled with moral issues on which the diocese and parishioners do not always agree.

Catholics believe God incarnates in diverse forms, Father Martinez said — like human beings.

“Once you say that God is a human person — I mean we’re just so varied and diverse that way — I think the real Catholicity of that is to acknowledge that and accept that,” he said.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Being American and Filipino

Last week, I attended the Filipino Cultural Association of the University of Maryland's Filipino American Studies Gala. It was encouraging to learn of an ethnic studies program that is actually thriving rather than being criticized, or worse, cut. It was also heartening, as it always is, to see Fil-Am youth proud of both their American and Filipino identities.

There is an obvious thirst among these second and third generation immigrants to learn about and connect with their Asian roots – with being Filipino. At this event, they played Filipino ballads I have not heard since my childhood as well as “soft jazz” and muzak popular among many Filipinos. They performed dances from the Philippine Muslim South and Christian North.

It was these awkward but endearing renditions of the Kapa Malong-Malong and Sakuting that made me think, what exactly are these kids connecting to? What are they approximating? Fact is, 99.9 percent of all Filipinos, have never danced this way in real life. My parent’s generation knew how to boogie and cha-cha, while in the eighties, my friends and I did punk rock and new wave in Manila.

This is not the only way or the first time that Filipinos in diaspora have romanticized and conceptualized what it is to be Filipino. Reme Grefalda, Curator of the Library of Congress' Asian American Pacific Collection and speaker at the event, would characterize this as a need to return to our parents' sense of nostalgia which is to be expected and respected. There is nothing wrong in wanting to learn a Philippine language and being familiar with Filipino heritage and history. There is much to be said about imbibing some of our forebears' core values.

Being Filipino is more than language, dance and history however. I recall debates from decades back about what true Filipino culture and identity is. Some hearkened back to pre-colonial times. Others argued that 300 years under Spanish rule had indelibly marked us with Latin culture. Still it cannot be denied that it didn’t take long for Americans to pump Hollywood, English, liberal democracy and aspiration for all things American into our veins.

Being Filipino and American makes it all the more complex and rich, worthy to be known and celebrated independently. Grefalda exhorts Filipino Americans to use Philippine history as a background, a starting point, for their own history distinct from their ancestors. She would like us to begin a new narrative which celebrates our hyphenated identity in the United States. I wholeheartedly agree.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Food for Pride

Maharlika, in contemporary Tagalog, means nobility or aristocracy, though in pre-colonial Philippines, it referred to a lower class that served the datu or chieftain during times of war. The term gained its current connotation during the Marcos era when patriotism was promoted. Student of Philippine history and culture Paul Morrow writes
“Maharlika culture” was his (Marcos) propaganda tool for promoting nationalism during the days of the “New Society.” The word became very fashionable and was used in naming streets, buildings, banquet halls, villages and cultural groups. Marcos named a highway, a broadcast company and the reception area of Malacañang Palace, Maharlika. He even toyed with the idea of renaming the whole country as Maharlika.
However one would like to consider the word, it is with apparent pride that Nicole Ponseca, Enzo Lim and Miguel Trinidad named their pop-up restaurant in New York City's East Village Maharlika . They wanted to make Filipino cuisine available once more to Manhattanites and in a form worthy of the trendy and finicky. After all, Filipino food as offered by most places in the United States is not exactly the most attractive and distinctive.

As my childhood pal, George Gozum, gushed after our brunch
Possibly the best Filipino brunch I've had in NYC, because they really 'got' the concept of an American brunch, but with Filipino dishes that had a level of authenticity that few other pinoy restos in Manhattan achieved. And it was packed! Maharlika mastermind Nicole Ponseca's done it right.
The food is excellent. I had the Eggs Imelda, chef Trinidad's take on Eggs Florentine, with laing instead of spinach, underneath two poached eggs, on pan de sal, with grilled prawns and a sweet potato hash and side salad. The presentation is worthy of the woman of a thousand shoes.

Trinidad masterfully balances authenticity with creativity. The laing tasted as it should but rather than a gloppy green mess (think saag paneer), I got delicately julienned tarot leaves peeking underneath perfectly poached eggs. It was a brilliant combination - the creamy yolk tempered the heat of the laing.

George had sisig - pork ears and jowl, boiled, chopped then marinated - better known in Philippine beer gardens and ordinarily served sizzling and spattering on platters. He got his portion in a cast iron skillet topped with an egg.

Maharlika opened less than two week ago and has become the latest thing. It is packed not mainly by Filipinos seeking comfort in familiar tastes and smells, but by New Yorkers of various races and ethnicities. A Malaysian friend who has been a number of times since its opening had to settle for a seat at the bar since he had no reservations. Two gorgeous Carribean young women asked about the calamansi mimosa. A few tables over a mixed group of fashionistas tasted each other's plate.

I always believed that Filipino cuisine has its place in the food scene. Maharlika confirms my faith and pride. I hope that it's here to stay.

Photo by Yvette Santos Cuenco.