Recovering My Roots (and Building a Community) in the Philippines

My trip to the Philippines was the dream of a life-time. To get to go to the country of the birth of my father, meet family I had never met before, and learn so much about myself and about my father has always been one of my hopes. Years ago I thought it impossible. In addition, to get to teach RC and bring to our homeland the tools and information so vital to our liberation was extraordinary. I returned from the trip knowing that a Community has been started in Metro Manila and that I have a place with my family, and other Filipinos, in the Philippines. We are a proud, smart, and courageous people who in the face of centuries of horrible oppression and colonialism have held onto much of our humanness.

I began my trip with two workshops that were planned by Shiom Morita, Yuho Asaka, and the Japanese RC Community. Shiom was with me throughout and was a tremendous support for me as well as being superb as an ally to Filipinos. Through their wide-world work in the disability liberation movement, Yuho and Shiom had set up the first workshop at a center for children with disabilities. It was to be a naturalized two-day fundamentals workshop for a group of the parents.

The families who use the center come from some of the poorest slum areas in the Metro Manila area and have very few resources of any kind in their lives. The treatment the young people receive from the center is all free and is of tremendous help. Staff and volunteers from the community and universities commute to the center one-and-a-half to two hours each way daily. These commute times, I learned, are standard for Metro Manila. With no subway system, people get around primarily in taxis, buses, and jeepneys (a combination bus and taxi). The street traffic is like rush hour, from six in the morning to nine or ten at night, Monday through Saturday, with bad pollution and exhaust fumes.

There were twenty mothers, two fathers, and several staff members at the workshop. Although English is taught routinely in schools, the workshop needed to be translated into Tagalog for everyone to get the most out of it. It seemed to me that many of the parents understood English, or at least were used to being talked to in English, but they were reluctant to say if they did not understand. I could see the effects of colonialism on language. (During my stay, it became clear that the comfort level with English usage was also related, though not completely, to class. The more education people had, the more comfortable they were with English.)

This was my first experience leading a totally translated workshop. It was good for me. I had to speak much more simply, with shorter sentences. I had to go slowly enough that people had time to respond. As a result, I discharged more of my fear as I went.

I introduced myself with a few sentences in Tagalog! They were surprised that I knew any of the language and pleased that I was Filipina. They welcomed me fully. At farewells I cried at how touched I was by them. I told them I was proud to be Filipina, and they cheered.

All were eager to tell their stories, and discharge came quite easily to many. I did a number of demonstrations. With each demonstration, usually several people, in addition to the client, discharged. I presented basic fundamentals theory and also did a class on the complete appreciation of oneself. It was fun. A couple of my demonstrations had the whole room discharging. Many got the hang of 'boasting.' They loved it.

At the end of the first day, people's faces looked totally different than at the beginning. The next morning a number of them said they felt like they had taken care of all of their problems the day before. It was clear that many of them had never been able to tell anyone about their lives. The sessions were deep and real from the start.

It was easy to validate them as parents for they were committed to and clearly loved their children. Being parents of children with disabilities, they had held onto a basic piece of their humanness: knowing the preciousness of all human life. The hope and love they showed was moving.

I also divided them into support groups-that being the most likely format they would be able to incorporate into their time at the center. As it is now, they just sit and wait with each other while the physical and occupational therapists work with their children. That time seemed like a perfect time for them to organize into groups and take turns.

Everyone indicated that they were interested in continuing to have this sort of support in their lives. I had them meet in groups according to the location where they go for their training or where their children go to school. I think the center will be a place from which (if the staff can support and encourage the continuation of the support groups) there may eventually be some parents to invite to fundamentals classes. We invited one of the staff people from the center to join us for the next workshop.

The second workshop was a four-day, intensive, fundamentals of Co-Counseling workshop. We had around thirty participants, about half of whom were only able to stay for the first two days. A wonderful variety of people came-people with disabilities, men and women, people of ages ranging from early twenties to fifties, working-class and poor people as well as middle-class and owning-class people. There was nice representation from various parts of the Philippines-Ilocano, Tagalog, Visayan, etc. (The province one is from and the language one originally learned to speak are very important identifying and connecting points for people.) Some of those who came had had some exposure to RC theory but most had only seen the description of the theory on the back of Present Time.

This was a good workshop but quite different from the first. After going back and forth about whether we should translate everything into Tagalog, Shiom and I opted not to, which I'm still not sure was the best decision. There was greater English comprehension than at the first workshop, but at times we had to make very sure a particular concept was clear. Seeing people who didn't necessarily understand what it was they were translating, translate concepts like 'contradiction,' was the source of some good laughter.

As an assistant, Shiom was key. In addition to giving me counseling support, she worked with the organizer to makesure that things went smoothly. Since the organizer was new to organizing, Shiom trained her as she went along. Jobs were handed out to most everyone right away. Shiom was fabulous around accessibility issues, vigilantly making sure that the information was accessible to everyone-whether through translation, or help for the visually impaired, or whatever.

In addition to basic fundamentals theory, I did classes on coached counseling, oppression/liberation theory, leadership and Community building, and policy. I met with the leaders of the support groups and got a good sense of how quickly people were picking up the theory and using it for themselves and in counseling others.

By the end of the workshop, most of the people were interested in helping to build a Community. It was good to have Shiom there, with her experience at building a Community completely from scratch. (I learned Co-Counseling in existing Communities.)

I do think the Manila RC Community has a solid beginning.

People volunteered to translate and to handle literature. They scheduled sessions. Most of the people live in one part of Metro Manila, which will help with the commute time. I have heard from a couple of people that they are having sessions and that things are moving for them already. Shiom and I identified five to six people to recommend to go to the East Asia Conference in Tokyo, which I think will be a good next boost for the development of the Community.

At the end of the workshops, I left Manila to go to Central Luzon, to the town where my father was born (Cuyapo, in the province of Nueva Ecija). I learned a tremendous amount there about my father and my heritage, and about some of my patterns.

My father comes from a small rural town that reflects the poverty of the country as a whole. I discovered that I have a very large family there. I had never been where so many people had the last name Enrico, and it was quite an experience. I got a sense of the isolation my father must have felt coming to the United States without the connection and support of his immediate family. Family is of number-one importance to Filipinos, and my family honored me in that spirit, welcoming me with arms wide open. They were thrilled that I remembered them and wanted to have contact with them.

I got a better sense of the feelings Filipinos internalize about what a very poor country the Philippines is, and of the level of hopelessness this lays in for people day in and day out. Escaping and going somewhere else (like the U.S.) to make money is the biggest hope there is. Many leave the provinces for Manila, but more leave the country to go overseas. Often they do contract work in the Middle East, Greece, Canada, the United States, or other parts of Asia. Because of the poverty, money made in another country goes far in the Philippines. Many in my family have gone to the Middle East and Japan in order to send money home. Families are separated for long periods when the mother or father (or son or daughter) is gone fulfilling contracts. Those who still live in the provinces do what they can to make ends meet.

Some of the wonderful things I noticed about myself, my family, and life in the province and in the Philippines included:

  • Young people are never alone; they have a close family member nearby all the time. Extended families are critical for the care of the children. Tremendous love and attention is given to the young ones.
  • There is little alone time for anyone. The closeness and affection are amazing. My isolation patterns were screaming at the togetherness and at the affection directed at me.
  • In the province, the pace of living is much slower. People have time to hang out with each other and really be with each other.
  • The generosity is incredible. Never have I seen people with so little give so much-to me and to each other. They were appreciative of anything given to them, no matter how small.
  • There is tremendous pride in being Filipino and in our customs, food, etc. They love being Filipino! My family also loves being Enricos. It was good to see. My nuclear family feels that way, too, but I didn't realize we shared it with so many others.
  • No matter how poor the area, I could always see a basketball hoop with young men playing.
  • There is no hiding the poverty of the country. It took some doing to find the middle-class-looking areas. Basic living takes much more time. The conveniences I take for granted were not there. This made me look hard at my patterns, assumptions, and standards as a U.S. raised-poor/working-class woman.

I had to discharge on all of the ways I have felt bad about Filipinos and about being Filipino. I was surrounded by Filipinos who both displayed the internalized oppression and were constant contradictions to my patterned assumptions about us. I was creative in the ways I was able to keep discharging and do things to keep my attention in the present. Tremendous amounts of fear and lots of feelings of disgust came off. I wanted to go 'home' a lot.

I also got to discharge on some longing that I've had to be in the Philippines. People who have left their home countries must have some longing to return. My father was never able to go back to the Philippines, having left sixty years before his death. I think he had tremendous loneliness and longing for his family.

At the same time that I felt like I wanted to leave, I felt at home in a way I had never experienced before. I reclaimed a piece of myself and could relax. I got some understanding of why family is so important to me, how good we are as people, how smart we have had to be to survive what we have endured for centuries, and how important it is to me that the liberation of Filipino people happen. My ability to reach out and talk to people I didn't know progressed. On the plane ride home, I was much more outgoing with people than ever before. My sense of home and knowing my place in the world has increased.

Teresa Enrico
Portland, Oregon,

Last modified: 2015-03-20 00:16:56+00