The Debut

Rented The Debut as well last night. It’s about a first-generation Filipino-American son and his conflicts with culture on the eve of his sister’s debutante ball. What I’ve learned from watching Ron watch the movie is how vitally important it is for minorities to see familiar faces and situations on the big and small screen – it really is an affirmation of identity. Ron would comment and decode the customs and decor as the movie went along… the big spoon and fork hung in the dining room representing abundance (usually hung above a picture of the Last Supper). The need to feed anybody that wandered within 50 feet of the house. What I didn’t get until I watched the movie is how central the Spanish/Latin influence is to the culture – how celebratory it really is. This seems divorced from my usual notions of East conservatism and quietude. The ball is first entertained with a traditional flamenco and then there’s a riveting folkdance called tinikling – the national dance of the Phillipines. The daughter moves between two crossed sets of bamboo poles that bank and clash and separate and come together in an ever increasing rhythm – they can’t get caught by the poles or step on them and she cannot look down – but must go off the rhythm she hears entirely (Ron says that the really good dances of this have a guy jumping the poles while he’s lifting the girl). When the DJ starts in with modern hip-hop and the kids do a girls versus boys freestyle competition – like in the video for Run-DMC’s ‘It’s Like That’. What I found really fascinating was how the younger generation rejected their heritage and latched on to either black/latino gangbanger images or white yuppiedom. A telling moment is when one of the young gangbangers is railing at another character and screams at him ‘c’mon you nigga!’ and the other guy yells back ‘c’mon you pinoy!’ Something Ron also pointed out is that no matter how rough the kids where with each other that even when one of the gangsters is getting the shit slapped out of him by his mom: he doesn’t hit back (evidently his two brothers fell into this crowd when they were younger). Same thing with the father of the main family getting reamed out by his father – you don’t talk back to your elders. Ever. And when the main character rejects his sisters party to go party with his white friends and a drinking game erupts into a girl yelling at him ‘Why don’t you go eat a dog you stupid chink!’ And his quiet shamed reaction is ‘I’m not Chinese.’ I started thinking what elements of my own upbringing would I consider folksy stuff – things that I’ll do just because that’s how I grew up. Like always having a rosary on the doorknob to my dwelling to keep out evil spirits – though I seemed to have made that one up myself (we were always getting rosaries from everybody growing up). I think a commitment to handmade wares is definitely in play – if mom and dad kick-off early then Heather and I are left with a ton of handmade ceramics – mostly made by other artist friends of my parents. I’ll probably have handwoven rugs in the house – maybe even weave them myself or commission mom and dad to make them. The culture of literacy where books are prominent in every room of the house – every room has to have one or more bookcases overflowing with books – and we don’t trust people that don’t read. A commitment to family dinner with no TV. Candles on the dining room table. Marking winter’s passage with an Advent wreath. Midnight ice cream runs during the long hot summer. Cooking out all the time. Sitting and laying on the floor – I don’t know where this one came up. We would have another family over for dinner and we’d retire to the living room and lay on the floor or the couch or pillows. Sometimes the couch would be empty and we just preferred to lay on the floor (probably because our gorged bellies felt better in the horizontal). I used to have the best naps in the middle of the living room – awakening to find someone had covered me with a cozy blanket. Ron would talk about how his mom would throw these huge massive parties and couldn’t believe that Americans consider burgers and beers a party – she’d cook for three days solid – much like my Grandparents on mom’s side having these massive family parties with tons of people and children and cookouts and volleyball and tons of food. At least we both come from a culture of big eating – I think the disconnect for Ron is when his two brothers were growing up here while his sister was being raised by his dad back in the Phillipines and he lived with his grandmother in another province – it really has fractured his sibling relationships. And I know I’ve written about this before – but there’s a real element of respect for life’s cycle in our family. Funerals are big-time. Everybody goes to a funeral and they are as much about mourning and grief as they are about seeing Aunt Whatshername again. They’d all be lined up on the couch – all of grampa’s surviving siblings. All with walkers and canes, all with glasses, all with hearing aids and later – all with drinks in their hands (jesus Mom’s side drinks!). Even the process of my mom and dad’s grief when they lost the baby that would have been our younger sister – mom did multiple soft-sculpture pieces to give her loss a form and those still hang on our walls at home. And the witness to aging – my mom probably visits my grandmother at the long-term care center every other night – and most of her siblings do too – I remember when I first started to notice my sister and I were aging – our skin starts to show worry lines (and laugh lines). It’s funny when you start to put the same anthropologist’s hat on and look at your own culture – a mishmash of mid-western humility, Catholic staunchness, German-Irish amalgamation and commitment to hard-work (though I still contend there isn’t a single ethnic group that would be proud of a commitment to loafing around), hippie handweaver’s hope and elementary school teacher’s commitment to the future. Plus, there are tons of strange words and games that we dreamed up as kids like Crazy Jane or Boxbombers or Kotexball. And the secret recipe for SDB’s (Super Daddy Burgers) and a love of all things containing wheat!

One thought on “The Debut

  1. Danny O'Bryan

    AS MY FATHER WALKED OUT MY LIFE AT AGE 2 THE PAIN AND GRIEF WAS REPLACED WITH THE AGE OLD SAYING”BE A BIG BOY.IF YOU DON’T CRY WE WILL GET AN ICE CREAM IN A LITTLE WHILE.”AS A CHILD THE FOOD WAS TO BECOME A DRUG OF CHOICE WAS REPEATED TIME AND AGAIN.AT AGE 2,7,10,12.16,18,23,25,39,86,94,2003.LIFE IS ALL ABOUT LOVE .THE SIMPLE HUG FROM YOUR SON OR DAUGHTER.THE CLOSENESS AS THEY PULL FROM HAUNTED HOUSE TO ANOTHER.AS A PARENT YOU WANT ONLY THE BEST FOR THE KIDS.SOME TIME YOUTH IS FULL OF FOLLY AND HEART BREAK-THAT IS WHY WE CALL IT YOUTH.WALK IN MOON LIGHT WITH YOUR CHOSEN ONE AND DON’T LET ANGER AND RAGE TAKE AWAY FROM LOVE.WHY WERE YOU BORN IN TO OUR FAMILY?IT MUST BE SOME LESSON THAT WE ARE TO TEACH EACH OTHER AS WE FOLLOW IN THIS COSMIC JOURNEY.LOOK TO THE PAST TO SEE THAT YOU WERE A TREASUE TO THIS FAMILY THAT SINGS OF YOUR GREAT JOURNEY TO THR EDGE OF THE REAL WORLD………..WALK IN THE MOOM LIGHT AND FEEL THE SMILE FROM THE OLD MAN THAT CAN ONLY SAY YOU ARE THE BLESSED CHILD AND YOU ARE LOVED…………………

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