Philippine News Day. [It’s hard typing this with one hand, as I’m cradling Izzy with my left arm.] Yesterday I went to the 40th anniversary party of Philippine News, held at the SF War Memorial and Performing Arts Center. Usually I consider this sort of thing as work (part of my research and all), but I was really looking forward to being there. Seeing old friends (Cherie, Salli, and so on — I must have lunch again with you folks one day), enjoying the beautiful weather (the balcony looked out over Van Ness and City Hall), and drinking the champagne (flowin’!) — this wasn’t work. =) Okay, I managed to sneak in a few discussions with academics as well (see, it was work-related after all).
The Pinoy glitterati was there in full force, along with the usual cast of characters at Bay Area events, with various dignitaries and indignitaries. Mayors of different cities proclaimed August 24, 2001 as “Philippine News Day” — something Willie Brown seems to do at the drop of a hat — and Speaker of the House Kevin Shelley gave a nice little talk about how PN had supported his dad Pete as mayor of SF back in ’63.
By far, one of the two highlights of the event was founder Alex Esclamado’s speech. (He was somewhat upstaged, though, when the keynote speaker — Phil Bronstein, executive editor of the San Francisco Chronicle and animal-bite survivor — and his wife made their fashionably late entrance amidst snapping flashbulbs. I was standing a few feet away from her, and she looked pretty glam, but was paler than I expected.) In my writings, I’ve been a little critical of PN before, pointing out their gleeful celebration of various society events (balls, debuts, and whatnot) and how this inadvertently contributes to a vision of Asians as the model minority. But I do recognize, at the same time, that this is a “function” of the immigrant press, i.e., staking a claim regarding belonging in America, and this is, I think, a particular immigrant predicament in which the ethnic press in general finds itself. Still, there was a certain undeniable bravery when PN did what it did in the ’70s, and now, listening to Mr. E’s understated reminiscences, I had to agree. There was genuine emotion in his voice as he singled out the most loyal staffers. Even as he went into his usual spiel about how the newspaper began “in the garage of his small house in San Francisco’s Sunset District” — something I’d heard and read many times — my heart still went out to him a little. He was right to be proud.
The other highlight came not from any speech, but from a musical performance. I have been a fan of Joey Ayala for many years now, since my high school days, and when I met him about a month ago I was too tongue-tied to say anything (I even forgot to bring out the CD I wanted him to sign). So he comes up on stage with a guitar, and tells the audience that he’s a songwriter from the Philippines, and that he’s written 150 songs, but the song he was going to sing today was not he had written — in fact, he said, “I learned it from you.” This is your song, not my song, he said, introducing it as “an English folk song from the 1800s” which he just learned here in the U.S. And then he promptly launches into a stunning version of the Star-Spangled Banner — in Tagalog.
I wish I can remember the lyrics exactly. But I can’t. I suppose I can ask him for the lyrics later, but I think it would spoil it. It began with “Nakikita mo ba?” and then went on as a hymn dedicated to the immigrants of the United States. His lyrics had allusions to the Filipino American War and ended with something about “Hinirang na bagong lupa” (a clear reference to the Philippine national anthem) and “Kasaysaya’y pinapanday.” All in all it was too brief a moment, possibly two minutes: Ayala had the audience in the palm of his hand, and then it was gone.