The Slaughter of Guapa

-Venice, 2016-

We met the soldiers twice that night, first at the bar and later at the pizzeria. They were American, stationed in Vicenza, and out of uniform for the night. We all lingered in the campo for a while, surrounded by old buildings that shrugged like sandwich bread in a backpack.

             Talking small and drinking large, we organized ourselves raggedly, partaking in the rituals that make us human: mating and idol worship. The Harvard boys wanted the servicemen to know just how much respect they had for men in uniform. They would never have the guts to do anything like that. A strenuous week of training meant that the army boys were itching to talk to some ladies—particularly, the lovely Harvard ladies they were so lucky to meet that fine evening. I whittled the word “infantryman” with my tongue until it felt like a normal word that could exist outside of a history book. I feigned a shadow of interest in their guns. Then, laughably and inevitably, came the question.

First, the innocuous “Where are you from?”

Then, “New York is great. But your family, where did they—”

            And lastly, “Wait. I’ll bet I can guess.”

            There’s a dreary kind of comfort in the time-honored “ethnic dartboard” tradition. The army boys guessed quicker than most—Charlie’s brothers had both married Filipina woman, wink wink, and Ed had a real thing for Asian girls. I thought about my grandfather’s limp and the history of blue eyes on brown skin and then I laughed like 1848-1946 never happened. The soldiers bought another round of drinks and showed us their tattoos. 

Soon, the other girls were gone and I felt their absence like a fishbone in my throat, and I watched the army boys and Harvard boys smoke their cigarettes, and it all swallowed me, that white American maleness that fills a room like steam in a shower.

-Manila, 1945-

The Republic of the Philippines took a 10-year breath of independence before the Americans came back in 1945. The whole thing (and by “thing,” I mean imperialism) really got started in 1521 after a visit from a fellow called Ferdinand Magellan, who led the first European visit to the strange little Eastern archipelago. Over the next four decades, other Spanish explorers came knocking, with Catholicism and a colonial regime tucked into their casserole tins.

The revolutionary stirrings began in the 1870’s, a Republic was formed in 1898, and said Republic was crushed by the end of that same year, after the Spaniards handed off the colony to the Americans. After a rocky adjustment (read: famine and war crimes) to American rule, the Philippines was granted Commonwealth status in 1935, marking the beginning of a supposed transition to full independence. This plan was thwarted by the worldwide ruckus of the 1940’s, and in 1942 the budding nation once again found itself under siege, this time by the Japanese. MacArthur and the rest of the American boys were back in 1945, recapturing the territory until July 4th, 1946, when the Philippines celebrated its first Independence Day.

My grandfather was born in 1937, and he limped for his whole life after being hit by shrapnel during Japanese occupation. He had been standing by a small bowling alley near his house when a bomb went off, and after some makeshift surgery in a makeshift medical tent, he never walked the same again. He was carried around on a stretcher until he could get back on his feet, and passing American servicemen would drop chocolate candies into the stretcher to cheer him up. He would make a peace sign with his fingers and shout, “Victory Joe!”

“Cute, right?” my mom quips as she relays this anecdote over the phone, and I say yes, because it’s as about cute as those kinds of stories get.

-Cambridge - Harvard Kennedy School Library, 1962/2016-

SCIENCE AND PUBLIC POLICY IN UNDERDEVELOPED COUNTRIES:

The Philippine Experiment

by Roman A. Cruz, Jr.

a paper presented to

The Science and Public Policy Seminar

Government 260

Harvard University

1961-1962

 

            My grandfather smoked cigars at the Manila Hotel with painters and politicians. He was Jesuit-educated and light-skinned—mestizo, meaning he resembled the colonizers, not the colonized. He studied at the School of Public Administration at Harvard, which wasn’t called the Kennedy School because JFK wasn’t JFK yet.  

A country would be capable of scientific research only after it has reached a certain “stage” of development. We shall be prudent enough to avoid a precise definition of this stage. It will be sufficient to suggest that India and the Philippines are among those who have reached it. Both are predominantly agricultural economies; their levels of literacy, while rising, are in general low by Western standards; their peasants are attached to unsophisticated and inefficient techniques.

 

There’s a portrait of him hanging in the National Gallery of the Philippines. His suit doesn’t fit him quite right, or at least the artist didn’t seem to think it did, and he wears boxy glasses. I stumble over his typewritten assessment of the unsophisticated ways of the peasants in the country he came from. He was mestizo. He was guapo. He was getting a degree at Harvard. Suddenly, the dapper man in the portrait is a doctor in latex gloves and a surgical mask, taking a scalpel to his own mother, pretending he never even knew her.        

The historical revolutions in science and technology in the West have produced a priceless heritage of knowledge and techniques from which the developing countries scan draw: transferring techniques outright or, where necessary, modifying them to suit their own conditions. And the vast resources being poured by the West into research today are continually adding to that heritage.

 

I hold his words in my mouth like cherry pits. He describes the American conquest of the Philippines as an association of the two nations, cites a strong influence of American values on Philippine society, as if the state filled with brown people had any say in the matter. An association of two countries, like the association between walking and then limping. Values on society, shrapnel on skin. Primitive, parasitic, pedestrian: I picture myself storming from a Thanksgiving table, yelling, “The Arabs invented algebra, asshole.” When I call my mom to say that I’ve found his old essays, she tells me she’s crying.

“I miss him so much.” 

My grandfather became president of Philippine Air Lines when his dear friend Ferdinand Marcos became president of the Philippines in 1977—the company had been nationalized after Marcos declared martial law. My mom and her half-brother Gino grew up flying First Class. Smiling stewardesses pushed carts of ice cream and mashed potatoes through the aisles as my grandfather’s airplanes glided through the Eastern skies.

Wall Street Journal April 10, 1981

PHILIPPINE AIR LINES TO GET $65.4 MILLION IN GOVERNMENT AID

MANILA — This week PAL reported a 1980 loss of $51.6 million on a 51% surge in revenue to $430 Million. Mr. Cruz blamed the loss on the higher cost of fuel and other expenses. But he predicted that the airline will make a profit in two or three years.

            Mr. Cruz's optimism isn't widely shared. Since it began flying to the Philippine mountain resort of Baguio on the eve of World War !!, PAL has always envisaged a brighter future, and since Mr. Cruz took over management of the airline for the government in 1977, the promises have come as fast as the red ink.

 

-Venice, 2016-

The soldiers were paratroopers, and they were in Vicenza training to jump out of airplanes, and it wasn’t at all like skydiving, because you had 120 pounds of weapons and equipment strapped to your body. It fucking sucked and you were lucky not to break your legs while doing it. Most of them enlisted because of money issues and family issues and nodded to the idea of becoming a better man, whatever that meant.

“The army sucks dick,” Brandon said. He was nineteen too, and he would have been an English major if the army hadn’t gotten to him first. He touched my knee and smiled. “No offense.”

            His fingertips didn’t go past my knee, didn’t even reach the soft stretch of brown thigh that I was too lazy to shave. I felt all my negative spaces, the gaps and gulfs and concavities that made him feel like he had to say sorry to me, because the army sucks dick and girls suck dick but girls and the army aren’t the same. 

            These are the good guys, I reminded myself, and he bought me a cocktail.

-Cambridge - Harvard Kennedy School Library, 2016-

            The worst part of discovering my grandfather’s secrets was realizing that they were never really secrets to begin with. My mother’s siblings are of the “half” variety, born to three different mothers. The Philippines is the only country in the world, besides the Holy See, that does not legally allow divorce. My grandfather’s close friend was Ferdinand Marcos, Ferdinand Marcos was a military dictator who was convicted of murder at the age of 22, and the sentence was handed down by—wait for it—Roman Cruz Sr., my great-grandfather. A few cursory Google searches would have yielded all of this information, yet I did not make those Google searches until I was seated in the Kennedy School library, next to an old man who coughed loudly, wetly, and awfully. 

            We were so similar, everyone told me. He was a writer like I am, as American as victory gardens and gelatin and ham. I read the damning gossip columns and damning newspaper articles, and an inane but still damning blog post by his ex-girlfriend, my uncle’s mother, written nearly eight years after his death. The coughing at the desk next to mine remained loud, wet, and awful.    

Thursday, September 15, 2011

 

What'll I do when you are far away and I feel blue, what'll I do?

What'll I do when I am wond'ring who is kissing you, what'll I do?

What'll I do with just a photograph to tell my troubles to?

When I'm alone with only dreams of you that won't come true, what'll I do?

 

Those are the words of one of my most favorite songs that later on became the theme song of the film The Great Gatsby.  I love that song.  It reminds me of my life, which, come to think of it, was full of heartbreak. Some hearts, I broke.  Others broke mine.  We left a path cluttered with broken hearts so until one day I said, That's it!  No more heartbreak for me.  I am done with all that.

 

            And I was done with all that too. We had little in common. The red portfolio that held his essay yellowed dimly at the edges. I handed it back to the archivist and left the Kennedy School library, which did not yet exist when Roman Cruz Jr. studied at Harvard. We had so, so little in common. I never told him that the Arabs invented algebra, asshole, and I never asked why he refused to call imperialism by its name in his paper for Government 260, and I never got to tell him that the army boys bought me drinks instead of chocolate candies. John F. Kennedy Street opened earnestly in front of me, and my mom filled my inbox with more stories while I cried on my way to class. 

-New York City - Terrace of His Fifth Avenue Penthouse, 2000-

My grandfather and I shared this planet for four years. He liked to pronounce the double-L in my name as the Spanish would, foregoing the consonant sound in exchange for a “y” so that the “ella” ending became “eya.” I have exactly two of my own memories with him: confiding in him while sitting on a bench on the balcony of his Fifth Avenue apartment (I thought my mom hated me because she didn’t let me put ice cubes in my chocolate milk), and eating some white, starchy snack that the nurses gave me, the day before he died.  

-Cambridge - The Walk from JFK Street to the Science Center, 2016-

Mom

4:22 PM

One more story: when he was growing up, he had a pet pig named Guapa. She was the cleanest and nicest smelling pig, and possibly the only indoor pig in Manila

4:23 PM

When food got scarce, they had to slaughter Guapa. They were all so sad. None of them could eat.            

4:27 PM

Now you have me thinking maybe they’ve been playing us all this time and just made Guapa’s story more dramatic than it was hahah

4:30 PM

I think actually food shortage WAS an issue: google japanese occupation, Philippines, and food shortage

-Manila, 2014-

I was sitting in the backseat when my mom told me the wedding photos weren’t real. She and her father both got married within five years of one another, and my mother was forced to invite Emilie, the girlfriend who later became my grandfather’s wife, to the ceremony. (Emilie taught me the word “sexy” when I was four and bought me a velvet Juicy Couture purse after she lied to my mother when I was twelve.) Emilie and my grandfather had two children together and married at the same church a few years later. When the ceremony ended, the wedding photographer called out a roster of family members who would be posing for pictures. My mom, Gino, and their spouses and children were left off the list.

 No, trembled my mother’s voice in the passenger seat. It wasn’t a mistake.

The wedding picture fiasco had caused such a rift in the family that the bride and groom announced a re-take. We staged a second photo shoot, several weeks after the nuptials. In front of an opulent backdrop of red velvet, we dressed ourselves in wedding clothes again, repinned the stiff white lilies and re-fastened the coquettish strings of pearls. My grandfather had always been called guapo, and the fake pictures from his fake wedding suggested nothing to the contrary. A mestizo man and his mestiza bride, and all of his and their children.

I sat in my mother’s lap for the pictures, and we were smiling and waxy-skinned as if we had been embalmed, and we all were dressed in a dizzying, iridescent shade of beige.