The control group

As a child, I ate all parts of the animal, nothing was wasted. Breast, legs and wings are usually what you’d find genetically frozen, artificially preserved in the meat section of REWE, but from where I grew up my father chops up the entire living animal, part by part; piece by piece, right in front of me.

Nothing is wasted. The head, the feet, the gizzards, the fat, the skin, the heart, the blood, the brain, and all the entrails, even the five days old embryos with all its veins, yolk, beak, feathers, claws, and all the crunchy undeveloped bones.

Food is a memory. The memory of my father beckoning as he prepares my favourite part of the animal, the intestines, ‘Isaw’, chicken or pig, coiled into skinny bamboo skewers crackling over a hot charcoal fire. I ate the bloody entrails. Slurp! slurp! Dripping oil and soot all over the covers of my father’s piles of National Geographic magazines; I propped my legs up resting above them. The magazine reads; “the human brain stores perception, intelligence, emotion, and the memory, and the heart is just a plain muscle that pumps”. I never really like how the brain taste like anyway, and the heart is a tad bit bitter.

As I have grown, I’ve developed a new appetite for watching people. I noticed that when humans cluster together in dense territories or settlements it creates some sort of dynamic reactors, like the throbbing pulsating heart of the animal my father chopped up, like a maestro, on our ceramic tiled kitchen table, divided into tiny bits and pieces. A nightclub, a corner shop, a mega mall, a restaurant, a supermarket, a theme park, an elevator, a commuter train, an airport, a city, a nation, an island, a colony, an entire continent becomes an actual living person in itself, that we, individually, have ties with.

Like a spiralling intestine or an umbilical cord. Slurp! I am an Indio. A full-blooded Malay Tagalog. As the Spaniards called all natives ‘Indians’ regardless of the truth; I am not related to the indigenous of America, or the South Indians or the North Indians of the IndoGangetic plains, I’m still considered an ‘Indio’ nevertheless. An Indio who thinks in fragments of tweets and Facebook statuses. A Proto-Malay Austronesian stock according to my father’s National Geographic. An Indio born in the streets of Manila. Where I watch bootlegged DVDs that I bought in the black-markets of Quiapo and Binondo, ‘The Year of Living Dangerously’ in 1982, ‘Apocalypse Now’ in 1979, ‘Platoon’ in 1986, ‘Broke-down Palace’ in 1999, and the ‘The Bourne Legacy’ in 2012, all shot in the Philippines, all their covers xeroxed cheaply, wrapped in heavy plastic. A digital echo playing in the background, “I love the smell of napalm in the morning. You know, one time we had a hill bomber, for 12 hours. When it was all over, I walked up. We didn’t find one of ’em, not one stinkin’ dink body. The smell, you know that gasoline smell, the whole hill. Smelled like… victory.”

I grabbed another magazine. It says there are 100 Million multilingual Filipinos that live today, about 10 Million, including myself, outside the motherland. An archipelago of 7,641 islands. An anthropological wet dream with no actual literature that has given it justice. A dark-skinned Filipino Indio, an ‘illiterate savage’ according to Sir Rudyard Kipling, a ‘heathen monkey’ to Captain Ferdinand Magellan. Under the trance of Stockholm syndrome. I grabbed from another pile of animal oil drenched magazines. It was more clandestine before the internet, but the Westerners have been testing nuclear bombs over the Pacific for almost a century now.

The Asian continent simplified into a ‘more bang for your buck’ vacation hot spot, or a free Petri-dish science lab experiment for the clever. Worlds paid for by the lowest bidder. But what is the real worth of all these white-sandy beach islands I grew up on and all its dog-eating people? And why are the Filipinos the perfect ‘lab rats’ for its Western hemisphere parents? A well-rounded population of 100 Million, 10 Million of which lives outside of its native land. A perfect ‘experimental’ and ‘control’ group. ’51st state’ of Guam or Puerto Rico, ’49th’ state of Alaska or Hawaii.. the Philippine Islands dropped out in 1898, 1907 and 1981. National Geographically speaking, 7,000 islands, 100 Million people, smack in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, surrounded by Japan, China and the greater California coast. Passive-aggressively groomed as the ’53rd state’. My gut suggests my motherland is a ‘political guinea pig’ of sorts.

The ‘lady president’, ‘the actor type’, even ‘the demagogues’ were tested on our islands before these stereotypes were released in the American market. Little-known by most, the ties, the intestines, the umbilical cord between the Philippines and the United States weren’t always as smooth. They were freed from Spain, and then freed from Japan, only to be under the limbs of its new liberator.

The US did not exactly treat the Philippines well during its housebreaking and potty training. The Filipinos got their independence in 1946, ironically, July 4th. A pre-historic Manhattan, a melting pot one thousand years in the making, an archipelago so incredibly multiculturally diverse. A Pagan, Islamic and a Buddhist archipelago, and the 333 years of its Christianisation, a process its neighbours Japan and China fully rejected. The only Asian country with a full European name, ‘Las Islas Felipe-nas’ is now the 3rd largest Catholic nation on Earth. And, like a Neanderthal inventing fire in a cave; a 19-year-old Mark Zuckerberg changed how I think, how I live, my mind compartmentalised in quotes, an animal of algorithm.

Everything else is now connected to Facebook—Twitter, Instagram, Youtube, Netflix, AirBnb, Tinder, Grinder, Snapchat; the list goes on and on. I choke on McDonald’s, I’m hooked on Coke, I dream in technicolor movies, and I’m a slave to Silicon Valley. There’s no way of escaping it. Not you and not me. It’s a Times Square cul-de-sac. I’m subliminally entwined with it. Intestines and umbilical cords and all. As I swipe back and forth on the sapphire screen of my iPhone7, its cold light flickering like a prehistoric bonfire against my face. Like a dear caught in headlights, grasping for air, my fingers desperately reaching for letters.

I hit send.

– Lope Navo

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