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When I saw the picture below on facebook & read some of my college friends’ comments,   it brought back vivid memories of the earthquake I experienced back in July 16,  1990.

At the time I was a senior at Saint Louis University in Baguio City.  Although it was a Monday, we had no classes because there was a strike at our school.

According to various sources, the earthquake struck at 4:26 PM and was a magnitude 7.7 on the Richter scale.  I lived in a two story, L-shaped wooden boarding house.  The bedrooms were on the 2nd floor, & I remember I was napping at the time when it happened.  I woke up to the gentle side-to-side motion of the quake.  It didn’t really alarm me because I had felt a very minor earthquake like that several days earlier, and nothing really happened then.  But what happened next was what frightened me.  Immediately after, the earth started to move in an up & down motion, & our books,  toiletries & other knicknacks that were on shelves fell off.  I looked out the window & saw trees swaying in the distance, heard the creaking & rumbling of our wooden boarding house & saw our water tank tilt to its side.  Then there was an eerie silence…and then screams.

Mylene, my rommate who was a freshman in college, started crying & panicking.  We tried to open the door but couldn’t get out, the earthquake had jammed our wooden door’s lock into place.  We passed through the small adjoining hallway that had a restroom in the middle and which also connected our room to another bedroom, but couldn’t get out because it was locked on the other side.  Fortunately, a boardmate of ours came upstairs & opened the door for us.

We had a receiving room on our second floor that had a huge window overlooking our front yard.  Assumption Road and the University of Baguio was right in front of us.  I looked out & couldn’t believe what I saw.  There were two newly constructed upper floors, & both had collapsed.  I could see body parts hanging out, & the screams were louder now as people at that school & on the streets were seeing what I was seeing.  I felt numb & shell-shocked, my knees were trembling at what I had just seen as I went downstairs and out onto our front yard.

Once outside on our front yard, I looked around & saw that our L-shaped boarding house had separated at where the   L shape intersected.  There was grim news for the family that lived in our compound.  They had a small eatery at the FRB Hotel (pictured above), a circular shaped hotel which was on the corner of Assumption  & General Luna Road.  The eldest daughter & the brother were manning the eatery.  When the earthquake happened,  the eldest daughter pushed the brother out the door  just as the FRB hotel partially collapsed on its side.

The next couple of days went by in a blur.  I remember walking probably like an hour with Ate May & Mylene  to Eric’s  (my boyfriend at the time) boarding house to see if he was ok.  He lived there together with a friend Daniel.  After that, Eric, Floyd, Ate May, Mylene & I camped out in a tent at Burnham Park for two – three days.  We almost had a fire incident in our tent one night.  We woke up to the smell of burnt plastic because Floyd left a candle burning on top of an umbrella handle .  We laughed about it back then & still do now.    When we got word that there was a C130, a US military transport aircraft, that would fly people from Loakan Airport in Baguio to Villamor Air Base in Manila, we promptly boarded the jeepney that took us to Loakan.  From Villamor Air Base, Eric, Floyd & I boarded a bus that took us to Olongapo.

I went back to Baguio around end August as classes resumed September. Ate May & I decided to move to a new boarding house. In fact we moved twice during those last few months prior to me graduating from college.

Its been 26 years since it happened, but I will never forget that day.

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I read this short & interesting article in the Harvard Business Review titled “Building a  Career Worth Having”:

http://blogs.hbr.org/cs/2013/08/build_a_career_worth_having.html

I agree with a lot of what’s written here.  There are very few people I know who feel fulfilled in their jobs; most are just trying to earn a living.  Nothing wrong with that, but I think it’s a waste if we spend all our working lives solely to just pay the bills.  If you work eight hours a day & count the time commuting to & from work, it seems a huge waste of our time, talent & energies if we’re not doing something that we at least find interesting.  I think if people had jobs or careers that they were engaged in, life would be much more rewarding & stimulating.  You’d wake up looking forward to every day & not just the weekends and vacations.

For me, money has never been the primary reason I accepted any job, simply because becoming rich and buying material things aren’t my goals in life.  Nor have I ever been overly ambitious – I’ve never wanted to have the top job.  The older I get, the more I want work that’s meaningful.  I remember feeling like I had a mid-life crisis in my mid-20’s.  I was at a strategic planning retreat at my last job in the Philippines before moving to the States & realized that, although I really enjoyed training & organizational development,  training employees to ultimately benefit a company’s bottom line isn’t what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.  Helping employees become better at what they do to ultimately make the owner of a company richer wasn’t appealing to me.  I didn’t know yet what I wanted to do, but I remember that I wanted work that had a more meaningful impact on people’s lives.

I am lucky in the sense that all the jobs I’ve had I really enjoyed.  I will hopefully enter the legal field soon & will continue my journey towards a satisfying, intellectually stimulating & meaningful work.

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Kuya.  It’s a word we use as a term of respect for a male older than us, whether they be our family, friends, relatives or strangers.  It’s a word that involves trust, especially when the person is considered family or a friend.

Kuya R.

Kuya R. was one of my first favorite Kuyas.  He was from Manila, handsome, artistahin, had a good sense of humor, & was kind.  I was a 10-year-old girl & felt comfortable sitting next to him listening to him joke around & tell stories to us, his cousins & our neighbors.

One afternoon while he & another cousin were watching TV I came into the room.  He motioned me to come over & he whispered something in my ear.  I didn’t understand what he said but the next thing I knew he pulled me closer & was kissing me on the mouth.  I was only 10 or 11 years old…it felt very awkward & uncomfortable, and I avoided him for the rest of the day.

Several days later, I was sleeping alone on the bed one night when I felt someone lie down next to me.  I think Mama was on vacation at the time in the province, so I was alone on the bed.  I didn’t feel alarmed because I didn’t find it unusual if someone slept next to me, & as I mentioned in a previous blog entry, there were always people at our house, banyo lang ang walang taong natutulog (the bathroom was the only place where there was no one sleeping on the floor).  But this time it was different.  It was Kuya R. who lay down beside me.  I had my back towards him, & the next thing I knew I woke up with him kissing the back of my neck.  I was in shock & could hardly move.  He tried to turn me to face towards him, while  his hand groped my still budding breasts.  “Kuya, huwag!”  I said, and that brought him back to his senses.  I avoided him like the plague ever since.  But there would be times when I would wake up from a nap & he would be there stroking my hair.   Good thing there were always people around so he didn’t do anything more than that.

Years later, when I was 18 or 19, & I told Mama about this, at first she got mad at Kuya R., but then later was mad at me.  She blamed me, then only 10 or 11, for what happened!  I was at a loss for words.

Kuya B.

Kuya B. was one of my cousins who lived nearby during the brief three years we were in Bulacan.  Kuya B. had a great sense of humor, was very good at playing chess, & worked as a bus conductor.  He was short, dark & thin, the physical opposite of Kuya R.

I was around 14 or 15 at the time.  One day, while we were all watching TV, he sat close to me.  I was wearing shorts, & I could feel him stroking my thighs surreptitiously from the side.  I moved further away on the sofa, but he just moved right next to me.  I got up & moved to one of the chairs at the dining table which was within viewing range of the TV & where he wouldn’t be able to follow me & stroke my thighs.  I knew he wouldn’t be able to do that in full open view in front of the others.

After watching TV, Kuya B. told me, “Den, punta ka sa bahay, turuan kitang maglaro ng chess.”  (Den, come to the house.  I’ll teach you how to play chess) “Sige, Kuya, mamaya.”  (Ok, Kuya, later.) I always wanted to learn how to play chess, & Kuya B was very good at it, but I knew he lived alone, & I dared not go there.  I knew teaching me chess wasn’t on his mind.  Over the next several days he kept coming over to the house insisting & asking when I’d come over, but I always said “Mamaya Kuya, marami akong homework eh.”  (Later Kuya, I have lots of homework to do.)  He finally stopped asking me, but from then on I always felt uncomfortable at the way he looked at me & whenever he was around.

~o~o~o~

I was lucky, although these incidents are considered sexual molestation, it didn’t go as far as rape.  And the only reason it didn’t go as far as rape was because I was informed.  But like most things in life, no one told me about these things, I taught myself.

I remember one time when I was around 10 or 11, I was at the library doing some research.  I finished my homework & started looking up things in the encyclopedia.  I was near the age of having my first period so I looked up menstruation.  You know how encyclopedia articles are, at the end of the entries they have cross-references to similar topics, so I read up on the female as well as male reproductive system, then sex, then sexual behaviors, then sexual deviations, & sexually transmitted diseases.  At the age of 10 or 11, I learned what all these things were, and I was grossed out to learn about pedophilia, incest & bestiality, and all the ugly STDs out there (AIDS wasn’t around yet),  but I came away that afternoon armed with knowledge about what is considered sexual behaviors & inappropriate touching.

I tell these uncomfortable stories to drive home a point.  If you’re a parent, you NEED to teach your kids what appropriate & inappropriate touching is, especially if you have daughters.  The overwhelming majority of people who are molested are females – girls & women.  The overwhelming majority of sexual predators are males.  And statistics say that in most cases, the molester isn’t a stranger, it’s someone the person knows & trusts, someone who’s considered family or friend.

So please, for your kids’ sake, don’t let what happened to me, or worse, happen to them.  Teach them what is considered appropriate or inappropriate touching & let them know that they can always come to you & tell you if someone has put them in a situation that feels uncomfortable for them.  To not inform your precious children, to me, is nothing short of negligence.

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The holidays are just around the corner. Instead of buying more stuff we really don’t need, please make this season of giving be a more meaningful one by giving to those less fortunate than us or to causes you find interesting. Give of your time, your talent, or your money. Here are links that can get you started:

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/06/opinion/kristof-gifts-that-change-lives.html

http://www.thegatesnotes.com/Personal/Making-the-Most-of-your-Holiday-Giving

 

My personal favorites:

http://www.roomtoread.org/

http://www.halftheskymovement.org/

 

However you choose to spend the holidays or give gifts, may you continue to be blessed & be a blessing to others 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Speech delivered by Virgil Yalong at the inaugural FilAmFest gala, June 14, 2012.  Speech & photo reprinted with permission from the author.

—————

Before I begin, I must point out my stance and understanding of what it means to be Filipino or Filipino American.  First and foremost, I was born in the United States to my parents who were naturalized citizens from the Philippines, making me an American of Filipino ancestry or in other words an American of Filipino descent.  That in its simplest form is what makes me a Filipino American and stems as the reason why I identify myself with or being a part of the Filipino American community.  Beyond that if others believe that my upbringing and life in America makes me less of a Filipino then I would stand my ground and say they’re wrong. If others say that my inability to speak the mother tongue makes me less Filipino then I would say they’re wrong.  If they were to say to me that living in America and never stepping foot in the Philippines itself makes me less Filipino, again I would stand my ground and say to them that they are wrong.  If any person stood in front of me today and identified himself as a Filipino, I would accept them as a kababayan.  If that is wrong, then I ask, if a man couldn’t speak at all, does that make him less human? Is a man less of a man if he couldn’t step foot unto his mother’s country because he couldn’t walk?  What, if anything, makes a man less human than any other?  What makes anybody more Filipino, or more American than any other?  The point that I am making is that there is no quantifiable measure that can justify the statement of being a “true” Filipino, nor a “true” American.  Ako ay Filipino. I am American.  My name is Virgil Yalong.  What is quantifiable and what I do look to define are people’s active involvement in their “self identified” Filipino American Community.  So the question is are we “truly” active? Are we 100 percent involved?

It is without a doubt that our Filipino American Community has worked hard to achieve success in our beloved San Diego.  Many of us have had the pleasure of working and living towards that success and being recognized for it.  From the Philippines we carried with us a strong work ethic and the spirit of bayanihan. Our pride swells when we see our kababayans flourish in the American limelight.   But just as much as we have accomplished, we are not even close to being halfway to where we could be as a community in our beloved San Diego.  [Second place and leaving it to the hands of the judges isn’t enough…] Trouble and strife within our community and organizations have set us back from achieving the progress that we can make.   We, and I say “we” because I too am a perpetrator of this trouble, we come together at the table and some hold our tongues out of respect while others lash out in spite, we brandish words that have us nodding our heads in agreement like, collaboration, bayanihan, and even the word “one” or “as one” or “be one.” But lets not kid our selves, “One” can never be part of our working vocabulary.   How can we be one when our mother country is one thousand islands?  Regions and dialects separate us and that regionalism, although somewhat displaced here in America, still exists.  Just as much as one of us can call ourselves Visayan or Ilocano we have already regionalized and separated ourselves here.  One example of that is I myself am a southside Fil-Am while others carry themselves differently from the north.  This separation is inherent in our upbringing and just like so many other characteristics this is the root cause of what keeps our Filipino American community from finding progress.  We can’t connect.  The divisiveness that separates us isn’t the Pacific Ocean, nor is it the 8 Freeway, nor is it our age.  We, you and I, can be in the same room and still be divided sitting at the same table and talking like we’re an ocean away from each other. The gap that exists between us is the inability to communicate.

Our lack of communication has set us up for complacent activism, talking about what must be done without having actually done it, sending us on a perpetual ground hogs day waiting and hoping for tomorrow.  Now as I understand it, in these eight years of productivity with the FilAmFest and 50 years with the House of Philippines, the collaboration of our forward thinking community leaders and organizations present today from the older generation to the younger, we can honestly say that tomorrow has come.  The time for action, involvement, funding, leadership development, etc. has arrived.

My own experience with our community reminds me of Aesop’s Fable “The Council of Mice”.  In the fable a council of mice convene to debate on how to best protect themselves from their common enemy, the cat.  After much talk and deliberation one mouse of some stature speaks up and says, “We should tie a bell around the neck of the cat to act as a warning for when it is near.”  To this, many mice on the council agreed and determined it to be a grand idea but as the excitement began to swell another mouse stood up quietly and asked the council, “Who will bell the cat?”

So we ask, who will it be?  We, and again I must emphasize as I did before, we means you and I, and we, even if you are inactive in the community, we includes you too because it would be foolish to believe that an inactive member of a community won’t have an impact, [inactivity is a guaranteed negative impact, while some activity has a chance to make a positive impact.] WE is anybody that identifies themselves as part of our Filipino American community.  That includes anybody, northside, southside, Ilocano, or Visayan.  Whether you were born in the Philippines or here in America, I will join in with you.  If you come from the old guard and feel invigorated to march for one more day or if this is your first day to march, I will join in with you.  If you are ready to put in work, if you’re ready to help in every way you can, so when they ask,  “Who will help gain progressive weight in the Filipino American community?”  Our answer is,  “We will.”  When they come to our leaders and they ask,  “Who will move our community to a new level of political maturity?”    We say,  “We will.”  Because we’ve worked our whole lives to reach this point and want to see it move further.  As a community of students and teachers when they ask,  “Who will stand for education and keep it in our schools curriculum?”   We answer,   “We will,”  for it will soon be our time to take up the reigns and continue to honor our legacy and build the future.  How can we do that without knowing our past? Who will put in the effort? Who will spend the energy and time? Who will answer the call when we are needed, even for a day, for a movement that is necessary to our community, necessary for our Asian community, necessary for our San Diego community, that is necessary for our kababayans across America, or even necessary for our family at home?  Who will?  We will. We will.  We will with all the experience and support of the generations before, we will with all the vigor and hunger of the generations to come, we will with all the spirit and wisdom of those present today.  We will.

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Sometimes, when me & my girl friends talk about babies & our kids, the topic of contraception comes up.  The typical exchange goes like this:

Girl Friend:  What method do you use, Den?

Me:  I’ve always used only the rhythm method & occasionally, withdrawal.

GF:  Does that even work?

Me:  Yep, works for me.  There’s an 11 1/2 years gap between my two boys.

GF:  Really? Wow!  Well, I don’t have a regular period like you, yours probably comes every 28 days, right?

Me:  No, that’s a misconception.  A “regular” period isn’t something that comes along every 28 days or so on the dot.  It can vary, as long as it regularly comes within a certain range.  In my case, I have my period every 26-33 days, so I know more or less when my “safe” days are & when it’s not “safe.”

GF:  So…really, you’ve never used any other form of contraception?  I use (insert contraceptive method of choice).

Me:  No, not even a condom.  I remember being a young teenager & learning about all this stuff on my own through reading.  I didn’t like the idea of putting anything inside my body like a diaphragm or IUD & neither did I want to use the pill ’cause I didn’t want to deal with all the side effects & I didn’t like the idea of tampering with my body’s natural processes.  So I vowed that when I got married or became sexually active, I would only use the rhythm method.  I just need to keep track of my periods.

GF:  But the (insert contraceptive method of choice) is so much easier.  You don’t really have to think about it.

Me:  That may be true, but again, I just don’t want to deal with the side effects.  Plus if you’re gonna talk about family planning, well, it takes two people to make a baby.  If I’m the only one who’s taking an artificial method of contraception, then the burden of family planning falls on my shoulders alone & I’m the only one who will have to deal with any side effects, which I find unfair.  My opinion is family planning is a shared responsibility.  With the rhythm method, there’s some sort of self-discipline needed & both of you are involved.  With other contraceptive methods, well, you can basically have sex whenever you want, so no need for self-discipline & it’s solely the woman’s responsibility whether or not she gets pregnant.

Based on the countless conversations that I’ve had with friends & others on this topic, I’ve learned a few things:

  • a lot of women aren’t familiar with how their bodies work
  • most do not take the time to learn about the different methods of contraception.  Their decision is often based on what family & friends are doing & what they think is the easiest & most convenient method, without actually researching what is best for them.  For example, a few of my friends were surprised to learn that one of the risks of the pill & the patch  are blood clots, which can lead to strokes & heart attacks, & that risk increases if a person smokes.
  • regardless of whether sex education is taught at school or at home (I think it should be both), I believe it’s a personal responsibility to know these things, especially since it involves one’s health.

As the cliché goes, knowledge is power, and I think this is even more so when you’re talking about your body & your health.

At the end of the day, it’s my body, my choice, and I choose to make an informed decision when making that choice.

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Almost a decade ago, I read articles that piqued my interest in gay rights – specifically that gay couples do not have visitation rights when their partner is in the hospital nor can they make medical decisions on their behalf.  It was heartbreaking to read one particular story where a woman was on life support but the partner could not visit nor make any decisions for her.  The family, which had long disowned the woman on life support when she came out as a lesbian, could visit, make health decisions for her, even make funeral arrangements for her if she dies; the partner, who had been by her side for the past several years, could do none of those things.

Around the same time, I had a co-worker who is a lesbian, & she told me her frustration that she couldn’t add her partner to our employer sponsored health insurance.  They would have to get it separately through their own respective employers, which would be more expensive.  Her partner had just been hired elsewhere & would have to wait the three to six months before she could qualify for health insurance there.  In the meantime, my co-worker’s partner was without health insurance.

Since that day, I’ve been in favor of gay rights because, simply,  they are human rights.

Someone once posted on my fb wall  that in cases like the ones above, a gay couple can use a living will or some other legal document.  But for me, that’s beside the point.  A heterosexual couple in an emergency situation or a medical situation gone awry, the doctor isn’t going to ask for legal documents like that, it’s automatic that you can visit your spouse and make medical decisions for him/her.  Heck, you can simply say “I’m the spouse” & they’re not going to ask for a copy of your marriage license to prove you’re married.  But if you’re a same-sex couple & you say, “I’m his/her partner“, sorry, you’ll need documents to prove your relationship.

Fortunately, times have changed since the time I read those articles.  In January 2011, new hospital visitation regulations took effect that allow patients to decide who has visitation rights & who can make decisions on their behalf.  However, implementation of these rules are inconsistent, as proven by an email I received a few days ago from change.org which I read only now. The link is here.

After reading that, I went on google to look up a national gay rights organization & was led to this website, the Human Rights Campaign.  I sent them a question, & they replied back with this very informative link, the Answers to Questions about Marriage Equality.

A few things I learned:

Social Security benefits. Married people receive Social Security payments upon the death of a spouse. Despite paying payroll taxes, gay and lesbian partners receive no Social Security survivor benefits — resulting in an average annual income loss of $5,528 upon the death of a partner.

Family leave. Married workers are legally entitled to unpaid leave from their jobs to care for an ill spouse. Gay and lesbian workers are not entitled to family leave to care for their partners.

Estate taxes. A married person automatically inherits all the property of his or her deceased spouse without paying estate taxes. A gay or lesbian taxpayer is forced to pay estate taxes on property inherited from a deceased partner.

Plus there are more than 1,000 federal benefits & protections of marriage that are denied to gay couples as a result of the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines “marriage as only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife; and (2) “spouse” as only a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or wife.

So gay rights, yes, I’m all for it!  We still have a long, long way to go, but I’m confident we will move on the path towards equal rights for all, regardless of one’s sexual orientation.

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