Engaging My Core, Trusting My Gut & Chronic Illness

I have a conflicted relationship with my gut. When I started my period, my gut totally betrayed me. I had unbelievable pain, pain that woke me up and made me bend over double in a hot shower at 3am, pain that made me get up and drive in my pajamas to get Advil, pain that made me grip the handle of the bathroom door and hope I didn’t pass out. Pain like this, during my period, during ovulation, and in between, for more than 10 years because I thought it was normal and no doctor told me otherwise until I couldn’t get pregnant. Then I discovered I had a disease called endometriosis, we call it endo to make it easier to say (!). Millions of women have it, most of us go undiagnosed for years.

So my core is tender, scarred, broken and full of pain, and I always felt removed from it. Betrayed by my core. Angry at my core. I realized this even more after my last surgery for endo and I found exercise.

This last surgery relieved the pain and inflammation enough that I finally felt able to exercise. And I knew I needed to exercise to keep my scar tissue from hardening and causing pain. And suddenly, I found exercise, like some people find religion. I found it made me feel happier, stronger and relieved stress, just like all the books and blogs said it would! And like in a most religions, where certain phrases are repeated, I found the phrase “engage your core” is invoked all the time. I never understood what the hell they meant by that. Engage your core. My arms and legs are shaking and I’m told to tighten my core.

I had a hard time engaging my core. In fact, I was totally disengaged from my core. After years of living with chronic illness that was mainly settled in my guts, I had stopped listening to my gut, all together. I couldn’t “engage” my core because my insides and me had stopped speaking to each other.

So these couple of years that I have become a steady exerciser, I just started listening to my gut. And I’ve forgiven all the pain it has caused me – we are on the hard long path to reconciliation. I’ve realized that I held all the pain, exhaustion, and fear of pain close inside. Sometimes, I actually feel waves of nausea when I pull in my core and I imagine, it’s all of that shit pouring out. I’m not sure how long the surgery will work to alleviate the pain, and the disease is likely to return, and make exercising harder. So while I can and while I am able, I am learning to engage my core.

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My guts are scarred, after two surgeries and sometimes I feel like my core is broken. But I’ve learned that my core also keeps me standing, and it is really true – if I engage with it, feel it, tighten it, talk with it, treasure it – then my core can help me lift heavier and jump higher and find more strength.

Going Home, walking between borders and Living in the House of Trump

It is obvious that Trump and his followers doesn’t think we belong here.

Who do I mean by “we”? Brown skinned immigrants. His wives are immigrants, but he never talks about dirty Russians or suspicious Eastern Europeans. Black Americans, people who disagree with his politics – obviously also other.

My kids always use “American” as short hand for white American. I ask, do you mean “white American?” or “Black American?” or “Asian American?” Clearly, they perceive our otherness, in this culture and in the House of Trump. “American” defaults to Whiteness.

A Trump supporter yells, go back to Africa, go back to Mexico, tells all “Muslims” to go back to Islam(!??!). The US Supreme Court allows for the forcible internment, imprisonment of all people of Japanese descent, their US citizenship not protecting them. I learned about this as a child and realized that this belief – the belief that we are not really American, even if born here, this applies to me. This place has always been the House of Trump.

My mom always calls the Philippines “back home.” A US citizen for decades but the Philippines is always back home. A reader of my blog (thanks for reading!) asked me whether the Philippines is home. And I have been thinking a lot about it.

I was born in the US and grew up only understanding every nook and cranny of American racism, white supremacy, hatred of women. The Philippines is respite for me, where my small Asian body feels more at home and not alien, but the culture, the politics, the colonialism and its impacts are mysteries I experience only at Skype’s length of through Facebook posts. But the US can never totally be home because it includes the House of Trump and its inhabitants feel like they could kick us out at any moment, no matter citizenship.

I remember vividly the joy of returning back to the Philippines for the first time. I was astounded that my family could greet me with open arms, that the country recognized me as a returning fellow countryperson, a member of the diaspora, even though it was my first actual physical step in the Philippines. I was relating this to my friend, a Black-American and he said he wished he had that. The brutality of American-slavery was the destruction of that return home. Where would he go? To the place of his enslavement? But the US is his because his ancestors built it – it became a world superpower because of 400 years of slavery meant an accumulation of wealth at the hands of the ruling elite that no one could match.

The US is mine, because I was born here but I will always be a stranger too. The Philippines is home because my heart was born there, but I will always also be a stranger. Children of immigrants, we walk borderlands, we follow whispers, we dive into deep caves. And let’s not kid ourselves, the House of Trump has always been here. This country was built on equal parts genocide, slavery, war, imperialism, AND hope, revolution, protest, and resistance. As always, the question is Which Side are You On?

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Balikbayan – On Returning Home

Balikbayan translated

Balikbayan:

root words (at the root of it) =

Balik: to return, to go back

Bayan: a town, the nation, the “People”, the homeland,

 Balikbayan = Specifically: A person who returns to the Philippines, usually after an extended time living and working abroad. Generally: a person who returns to their homeland. Radically: A person who returns to the People,

Balikbayan box – A box of gifts, remembrances, first world status symbols that the Balikbayan brings with them to compensate (but never really compensate) for the long absences, the missing of decades of birthdays, weddings, funerals, christenings. They have changed over time, from Spam to Old Navy T-shirts made in some other 3rd World country. Aspiration Definition: The treasure we bring back, the dreams, the hopes.

Preparing for the return home to the Philippines. Technically, I am not a Balikbayan. I was born in the United States. Geography and place of birth and the heart can be contradictory. My mother is the true Balikbayan who returns home with half decades and half lives lived between. I am her daughter and I chose the balikbayan status, the obligations of the balikbayan box, the money wired overseas, the designation of godmother to children of cousins of cousins.

I compile lists to prepare, Tita Vingyan, and her 14 children, born while Tito Carding worked his whole life as a groundskeeper at the American School in Saudi Arabia, his life inspiring the naming of one child – “Haji.” But what about her son Kuya Ahbet, isn’t he working in Dubai as a construction worker? Ahh no, he returned, after deciding it was too hard to be away. And Tita Budha? Who is skinny like bamboo and has lived her life next to the railroad tracks, and squatter camps and whose children are scattered. And what about the children of those children? Lists and lists, and trying to remember ages, sizes, creating timelapse photos in my head from 5 years ago.

Why take it on? – Why take on the stress of trying to compensate for the pure luck of my circumstance, being born in the ruling empire of this era, rather than the colonized nation of my mother? I do it for love. Not my love, but theirs, in exchange for claiming my 2nd generation Balikbayan status, I get a whole family, I get a homeland, and a place TO return. And yes that family is full of drama, anger, petty jealousies, and grudges. But remembering what Audre Lorde said, that we were never meant to survive, and those words are so true of the colonized, violated 3rd word nations like the Philippines. To survive and to build the bridge from one country to another, to RETURN. From the Palestinian fight for the right to return to the lands stolen, to the domestic worker wiping the ass of their first world employers’ child or parent who fights to return. So I claim the right to return back to my mothers’ country, and in exchange for my boxes of gifts I get tears, embraces, love, and the land I lost.

Street Tactics & Law on the Streets

This time the night was warm compared to the bitterly cold night that we last marched. That night we marched for Eric Garner, a previous night we marched for Mike Brown. When we marched for Baltimore, it was warmer and the NYPD was hot. The cops were out in force –  helicopters flying overhead, riot gear, white shirted detectives, street cops, and paddy wagons.

I saw an old friend from law school with the bright green hat of a National Lawyers Guild Legal Observer. She is a defense attorney – a kick-ass defense attorney for poor people. She said something to me that stayed for with me for days, she said, “well it’s great that the cops are all here.” Sweeping her hands towards the phalanx of state power, “because when they are here, arrests go down everywhere else in the city. My night arraignments will be slow.”

Let’s break this down. Because the cops are out suppressing protesters, they can’t be in poor neighborhoods, harassing and arresting poor black and brown people like they usually do every day.

This makes me think of strategy and demands. People collectively, deliberately putting their bodies in the way of the fascist state is a successful tactic, not just for the public statement but because it actually helps more people of people of color to survive, even just for one more night. When a poor person gets arrested for bullshit “quality of life” violations like jaywalking, street performing, jumping a turnstile – this one arrest will lead to a cascading, catastrophic series of interactions with the State. So even one night, where the police have left poor people’s streets and apartment buildings, to police us at Union Square, is priceless, it is a life saved.

The recent Black-led rebellions that have arisen using the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter have been criticized sometimes for their lack of demands. As if more civilian review boards or the election of the right politician will save Black lives. Actually, putting their bodies in the streets, and in streets that are used by white, middle class consumers, changes the balance of power, Even if just for one night.

Street protests and rebellions are hard to sustain. But they are not hollow gestures as some people have insinuated. That warm spring night, I saw young people getting important education on tactics and state power, as police got the word from the Mayor that these protests would no longer be “tolerated.” And the huge police presence, momentarily stopped the broken windows policing in poor, black and brown neighborhoods. Accomplishing something that has not been accomplished by litigation or the election of a democractic mayor.

The Murder of Walter Scott, Abolition, And Alternatives to “Carceral” Reform

Another blatant murder of a Black man, Walter Scott, by the police state. The narrative hasn’t changed, the police murder a Black man, Mr. Scott, and then cover it up with all the power of the state, the murderous cop plants a taser next to the victim, to bolster the cop’s story that the cop was “fearing for his life.” and the state’s  initial response was that this shooting was justified.This would have remained the dominant narrative except for a video. A video that clearly showed the victim, fleeing, weaponless, and being shot in the back. There has already been a lot of thoughtful, rageful, and mournful pieces written about the lies told by and about our police state and our criminal “justice system.” I have been unsure what, if anything, I have to add to the discussion. However, I have been thinking about an additional angle – feminism, social justice movements, and the prision industrial complex. The Marshall Report, just released a piece about child support and the number of men who fear the police because of warrants for failure to pay. It is here: https://www.themarshallproject.org/2015/04/10/why-was-walter-scott-running?utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=newsletter&utm_source=opening-statement&utm_term=newsletter-20150410-154 The fathers’ failure to pay child support is a major problem for single moms and has been claimed as an issue by conservatives and feminists alike. This is a real problem – divorce being a major catalyst for driving mothers into poverty. However, arresting fathers and putting them into jail for failure or inability to pay child-support is nonsensical, no one can pay anything while in jail. So why would advocates fight for legal mechanisms like arrests for failure to pay child-support? I think that questions affords us a place for self-reflection on the legal reforms that social movements fight for. Movements led by an upper/middle class white(mostly) professionalized class usually equals “reforms” that contribute to the strength of the police state and expansion of the prison industrial complex. When white feminists advocate for these solutions, radical, women of color, groups like INCITE! refer to it as “carceral” feminism. Victoria Law in the left magazine, The Jacobin, defines it as,”… an approach that sees increased policing, prosecution, and imprisonment as the primary solution to violence against women.”  Kimberle Crenshaw, in her groundbreaking piece, Mapping the Margins, Intersectionality, Identity Politics and Violence Against Women of Color, first pointed out the obvious in her critique of Violence Against Women’s Act (VAWA) – that solutions that rely on the state to stop violence will INCREASE violence against working class women of color and non-citizens. And outcomes for interaction with police will be different for a white middle-class woman versus a poor Black-woman. Obvious – if anyone had actually paid attention the experiences of Black women and the US state. The same state that previously legalized the bondage, commodification, and rape of Black enslaved women could hardly be trusted to stop violence against Black women. To understand our history, is to understand that the law, as an outgrowth of the capitalist state, has always regulated Black bodies and Black labor in order to maximize white, capital, profit. So when we call for the state to ensure that men pay child support through disciplinary tactics like probation and incarceration, we are just enabling the capitalist, racist state to continue to regulate/enslave Black and Brown bodies. When we call for mandatory arrests of accused wife abusers, we are doing the same. When we when demand hate crime legislation we are doing the same. When we call for the end to human trafficking through the demand of more prosecutions, we are again empowering the state to continue to arrest more Black and Brown people. That is just how it works. Money that pours into the our criminal incarceration system only goes to building a more sophisticated police state and creation of more state sponsored violence. It will never end violence. This is why I am an abolitionist. This is why you should be one too. There are alternatives to calls for reform that don’t strengthen the police state. Instead of calling for the arrest of fathers who can’t or won’t pay child-support, we can join in coalitions calling for full-employment, fair jobs, $15 and a union. Instead of calling for the independent review boards of the police, diversity in the police, or more community policing, we can call for reparations and the dismantling of the police force. Instead of calling for Hate crime legislation, we need to reduce the thousands of acts that are now called felonies in our criminal incarceration system. Instead of calling for the end to deportations for some of us but an increase in deportation for the “criminal”, we could say that they/we are all our family and demand full legalization and the end of deportation and detention for all of us. As I am writing this, I see more articles calling for the same. Like this article by Mychal Smith of the Nation, http://www.thenation.com/blog/203873/abolish-police-instead-lets-have-full-social-economic-and-political-equality Abolition. Reparations. Full Social and Economic Equality. If you want to read more: read Michelle Alexander’s book, the New Jim Crow, Angela Davis’ book, Are Prisons Obsolete, and INCITE’s website, and many more sources, that I don’t know yet!

How to Stop the Over-Consuming Addiction in Our Children

photo(5)I was raised in a over-consuming culture. I would dare say, that most of us were. The US/capitalist structure needs constant consumption to survive. So we associate the buying of things, things we don’t need, with well-being, prosperity, and happiness. Reflect on these things: retail therapy, the orgy of gifts during December holidays, President Bush exhorting people to shop after Sept. 11 to show the terrorists that wouldn’t be beaten, the urge to buy something new for each season, a new bag, new lip-color, new shoes. I have started to take note of my own feelings when I buy something or desire to buy something. I notice that when I look at catalogs, my eyes dilate to let in all the colors of those glossy ads showing strong women surfing in $200 bathing suits and I start thinking that I DO need a bright, new, raincoat. When I see a great, new bag, or a great pair of shoes, I actually salivate! We have been totally conditioned to want, desire and to feel a rush of euphoria when we buy something new.

This is by design of course. So how do we not pass this desire to consume to our children? Because we also seem to have an innate love of lists, here is my top 5 list. (also with the caveat that I have broken these tips a bazillion times).

1. Talk about Values, and Value spending Less: We can talk about our values and the need to preserve our plant and why we shouldn’t/can’t consume like our culture says we should. (caveat: Here is the thing – It is vitally important for those of us in the 1st world to consume less of the worlds’ resources. And certainly, this is a middle-class and upper middle class problem, the poor in the US are not over-consuming, and the wealthy, well they are just hoarding money and overspending with abandon. HOWEVER, this will not save the earth from the impending doom of climate change. Only a massive, world-wide effort to stop the main polluters like Exxon, Chevron, and BP can begin to slow down the warming of the planet. But we will all feel a little bit healthier, when we break free from the addiction of consuming, I promise!)

2.  Don’t Reward Our Children With A New Item or a Buying Trip:  So when they get good grades or even when they learn how to use the toilet, the urge is to buy our kids something. I know that I was so desperate to get my son to use the toilet, that I bought him countless Thomas the Train items. But we don’t want our children to learn that reward means a trip to the store. So we do: award with praise, honest reflection about how proud we are of their hard work and respect of their teachers or willingness to help their classmates, we do go out to eat sometimes or reward with a sleepover or a special activity.

 3. Don’t turn birthdays/holidays into gift-giving extravaganzas: This is easy if you don’t do big birthday parties. But if you do, you can ask for no gifts or do a gift exchange, ask each person to bring a gift that can be exchanged and put into a grab-bag and then each kid can pick a gift from the bag. We try to make birthdays more about a special activity, like Spa Castle or sushi, or one gift, same for the holiday during December – one gift or a few small ones and lots of fun activities.

4. Don’t Upgrade Unless You Really Need to: It is common in our culture to upgrade to that next shiny electronic item, newer, cooler, shiny object. We covet them and we teach our children to the same. We can change this by taking pride in wearing our clothes till they wear out, using our electronic equipment until they break, not talking about or fetishing the newest electronic gadget.

5. Don’t Associate Hard Work with Making Money and Having A lot of Stuff. You know the truism, “work hard, study hard, and one day, you will make a lot of money. Or be able to buy more things.” First, this just isn’t true, the women in the cafeteria, the fast-food workers, the sanitation workers, they all work hard, but barely make enough money to make ends meet. We didn’t work harder than they did, we just got lucky, and we had family/support that could help us get on our feet. Not everyone has that. Just because someone has a lot of shit- doesn’t mean they worked hard.

 

 

“Wait, white people can be terrorists, too?”

This what my son asks, when I explain that the KKK is a white terrorist organization. As my previous post of explains, we try to not use the word “terrorist” in our home. https://brooklynbarangay.com/2012/09/12/september-11-and-why-we-dont-use-the-word-terrorist-in-our-home-2/. The basic reason is because terrorism is really just code – code for white supremacist logic about who is “civilized” and who is not, whose lives matters, whose does not.

We rarely watch mainstream news. But my kids were hearing about “terrorism” outside our house, in school, and in the headlines, and so I wanted to introduce a counter-narrative when I used terrorist to describe the KKK.

My son’s question, asked in innocence, casts a glaring spotlight on what terrorism means  in our world today. It means brown people, it means Muslim, it means foreign invaders come to take away civilization and replace it with savagery and barbarism. It is racist code, a way to be racist without using the typical slurs or epithets. It is shorthand to attach the weight of white supremacist logic without having to use all the words. It implies the “great clash of civilization” vs the “savages/heathens” narrative in one short word.

Another example of how the racist trope of terrorism has invaded mainstream culture is during the Lord of the Rings, when the “wild men” attack the “last stand of men” with their heads wrapped in scarfs and on elephants. An unmistakable reference to the brown people of India or the Middle East and again my kids recognized it right away – they said, “hey, look, terrorists”.

So I had to unpack it for them. I asked them why they thought this was true. They pointed to the scarfs and said they looked like the Taliban. I tried to explain racist stereotyping, and we talked about what it would mean to have your country invaded by another army. Should defending yourself be considered terrorism? We talked about US drone strikes that have killed children and civilians. Is this terrorism? We tried to talk about perspectives too, to explain that mainstream culture and media is not our perspective because they frame things from a deeply racist set of assumptions.

I posted earlier about talking about race with our children. And I think I will need to have several more posts on this subject. So it is not enough that we don’t use “terrorism” in our house, in fact, it is wrong to avoid the word. We need to talk about it because obviously our kids are immersed in it. I realize now that our children are growing up with different racist codes, different wars, different hatreds and we need to give the tools to unpack these words and understand what they mean.