Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Teaching at the "University of Spoiled Filipinos"

Boy, I'd sure love to teach in the University of San Francisco.


Just read this
article taken from You'll know why.


Activism 101 for the "University of Spoiled Filipinos"
By Christian V. Esguerra

SAN FRANCISCO—A new park was rising in the South of Market three years ago, much to the excitement of the area’s long-time Filipino dwellers.

They were expecting the new patch of green to be named after Victoria Manalo Draves, one of their own. She’s a proud daughter of the community, a Fil-American who captured two gold medals for diving in the 1948 London Olympics, a first by any woman, and the only Olympic gold medal by a Filipino to date.

But word was that someone else— not from the neighborhood but who would be giving a large monetary donation to City Hall—would receive the honor.

The news angered the Filipino community. At the forefront of the protest were students from the University of San Francisco (USF), an upscale, Jesuit-run private school. It’s the city’s more affluent version of Manila’s Ateneo.

It’s occasionally dubbed the “University of Spoiled Filipinos,” a playful jab at the students’ elitist environment and their supposed never-care attitude.

But they cared, especially during those tense months in 2005 when they felt a compatriot was being slighted.

Role model
“Victoria Manalo Draves is our role model,” was their loud message to the powers-that-be at San Francisco’s City Hall. The students, some of them barely speaking a word of Tagalog, pointed out that not a public speck in San Francisco was named after a Filipino. To think that the city has been home to them for more than half a century.

The pressure mounted and in the end, the 80-year-old former diver got the honor.

Activism paid off for this group of Filipino students enrolled at a pioneering, if not, maverick, program at USF. In the school’s Philippine Studies course, they had apparently developed a consciousness for social justice as palpable in rallies as in female students sacrificing French tip nails for placards.

Not helpless
“Their attitude is—so we’ve learned about these things in the classroom, what are we going to do now?” says Joaquin “Jay” Gonzalez III, 44, a professor at the program and himself a veteran activist during the Marcos dictatorship.

The Philippine Studies Program teaches a variety of lessons about their native country - politics, history, economy, language, and culture. Discussions even tackle controversies like “Hello Garci,” human rights abuses, and the more recent broadband scandal.

In the end, besides earning a degree and big bucks, students develop the common attitude of doing something more. That explains their presence in protest actions on matters like the Filipino World War II veterans’ issue and the “Desperate Housewives” slur on Filipino doctors.

While they can only watch the worsening condition in the Philippines from afar, they’re not exactly helpless. They turn to issues closer to their home in San Francisco and try to make a difference just the same.

Their program at USF was itself a product of student activism, according to Gonzalez.

Back in the 90s when more and more Filipinos were enrolling at USF, they began demanding a curriculum specific to their needs, a counterpart of programs like Latin American studies.

“It’s about discovering their own roots,” says Gonzalez. “Students were in search of themselves and their culture.”

It wasn’t difficult to lose one’s identity in a highly diverse culture like America’s – especially when, for one reason or another, many Filipino parents were deliberately wiping out traces of their children’s native roots in a desperate effort to integrate them into American society.

It showed when kids were told to speak English—and only English. The attitude created an impression of inferiority of the Filipino language, even if parents probably wanted only to spare their children of possible discrimination.

But as the children grew older and began seeing America in their own eyes, they realized that something was amiss. Why did the Chinese, for instance, remain proud of their heritage when Filipinos weren’t? Latinos loved their language, too, and America had to adjust to them.
Defining moment

Gradually, Gonzalez says these kids developed a consciousness that defined themselves in the company of other cultures: “Yes, I am an American, but I am a Filipino-American.”

Such was the attitude with which Filipino students petitioned the USF administration for a new academic program. Bolstered by an endowment from Ambassador Alfonso Yuchengco, the school acceded and initially offered a Philippine history class in the fall of 1998.

For all the noise created by the petition, the experimental course attracted only 19 students. It turned out that they were looking for something more relevant, something that would not only inform them about their past but also teach them about being Filipinos in a foreign land.

The curriculum was revised to offer subjects like Fil-Americans in US history, Filipino Politics and Justice, Filipino Culture and Society, Tagalog, Filipino-American Arts Exposition, and the pioneering “Knowledge Activism.”

It also had “Barrio Fiesta,” a performing arts course that was once assigned to movie/stage actor Bernardo Bernardo.

‘Bakit Ngayon Ka Lang?’
True enough, the “perked-up” Philippine Studies Program generated huge enrollments, so much so that it is now a “major” at USF, meaning a program with at least 40 units.

So what becomes of students majoring in Philippine Studies?

The economic side of it, Gonzalez concedes, may not produce incomes as big as those in the medical or legal profession. But in America’s continuously changing environment, Filipinos are becoming more and more relevant, if not indispensable – thus the logical importance of the course.

Companies, for example, are targeting Filipino consumers, a market now difficult to ignore because of their enormous presence in places like the Bay Area. Gonzalez says knowledge about Filipino culture would prove valuable for applicants for such companies.

Knowledge activism
The same is true in the field of health services.

Once, Gonzalez had a Chinese-American student in his first semester Tagalog class. The boy, student of Nursing Cedric Chew, made friends among his Filipino classmates and was soon falling in love with the culture.

He started to love Filipino music, too, to the point that he began singing Ogie Alcasid’s “Bakit Ngayon Ka Lang?” from start to finish.

The tune and his overall exposure to Filipino culture came in handy during his internship at a hospital staffed mostly by Filipino doctors and nurses. They all loved him, especially whenever he sang the popular Filipino ballad. Filipino patients were requesting for him as well.

‘Don’t forget your rosary’
Much of the success of the Philippine Studies Program is seen in the way it has transformed students into socially commited individuals. They not only see the world outside through textbooks, they look at it in the perspective of change that is just and humane.

Consider “Knowledge Activism,” a subject practically created by students.

Gonzalez says it began as a “teach-in,” meaning with a group of students gathered for informal discussions about Filipino-related issues. Occasionally, they would invite professors for more inputs until Gonzalez decided to turn the gathering into a formal subject.

The guy who started it all, then student Glenn Andag, now manages the Filipino Education Center, an after-school program offering lessons on language and culture for newly arrived Filipino kids.

Like many other alumni of the Philippine Studies course, Andag owes much of his social awakening and transformation to mentors like Gonzalez ("Aral kay Jay,” as they put it).

In Gonzalez, students have a full-fledged “tibak” (activist) to teach them the value of social change and the nitty-gritty of achieving it. He brings to his classes a wealth of experience as a veteran of the anti-Marcos movement in the 80s.

Gonzalez’s own epiphany came in college while he was a student of biology and marketing at De La Salle University, school to many of the Philippines’ elite. His future in the corporate world was practically set until he began seeing fellow students marching on Taft Avenue on the way to Liwasang Bonifacio.

There must be more to life than the prestige and convenience of a high-paying job, he thought. He still graduated from La Salle, but as a political science major and with a better understanding of what he wanted to pursue. Gonzalez went on to hone his political action skills during his graduate studies at the University of the Philippines.

Soon he was a fixture in protest actions, naturally worrying his folks because of the violence that often came with the rallies. But they kept their faith in their son, reminding him often never to forget his rosary.

Rally 101
All the hard work paid off for Gonzalez and millions of his compatriots when Ferdinand Marcos was finally ousted in the bloodless revolution on Edsa in February 1986.

These are the stories that Gonzalez’s students—even non-Filipinos—love to hear. What a journey it’s been for America’s brown-skinned allies who now want to duplicate the struggle, even a semblance of it, in the context of their present environment.

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