You’ve probably noticed, dear readers, that our very own CBB has been on a hiatus from O!I most of this July, because of herBalikbayan journey through the Philippines with DJ Un-G. Landing back stateside can be tough, as I learned after many depressed, jet-lagged nights following my own trip back (the first in over 20 years) last July.
To offer our diasporic duo a softer landing, and welcome them back to their Los Felizhome in the eLAy sprawl tonight, I’d like to dedicate a very personal song to them–one written and recorded by my parents in 1986–about a place in which CBB and DJ Un-G spent quite some time with pamilya this trip: Cebu. The province achieved international notoriety last year after the Cebu ProvincialDetention and Rehabilitation Center’s inmate dance routines became a viral video sensation. Their “Thriller” re-enactment has logged over 17 million views on YouTube alone.
While much of the world has at least heard of Cebu now, few know anything about it beyond the orange jumpsuits and choreography. For Pinoys and other Southeast Asia-savvy travelers, Cebu is at once a bustling city and everything you might expect from a beachside tropical paradise. As with many provinces in the Philippines, Cebu is a place of tremendous natural beauty underscored by mixed feelings. Mixed feelings about a good life that remains out of reach for many; about the relocations and movements, the swells and ebbs of bodies, buildings and Balikbayans that regulate the islands’ moods.
My parents’ song, “Cebu” scored our own transition from the islands to California, and from years on the road going from gig to gig, feast to famine, and paradise to nowhere. [R: The last family trip in the Philippines, Batangas, 1983. I'm 2nd from the left. Mom is the photographer. Dad is the white dude with the abundant mustache. To avert any erroneous misconceptions about my potential bio Hapa-ness, my dad is actually my step-dad. I grew up with him since the age of 4, so he's just plain old dad to me.]
The song itself sounds like a mellow collision between all these destinations. “Cebu” combines the hooky, George Canseco-esque soft rock of the early-80s Philippines, with mid-tempo, mid-80s So. Cal ska (hear those trombones come in for the second chorus!). All of this is casually bound together in a Christopher Cross yacht rock package, prefaced by a melancholy piano vamp akin to the one in Hill Street Blues. [L: Parentals in Pacifica, Mom and Dad in center] (For more about the immigrante heartstrings plucked byHill Street Blues, see my fave comfort gay, Miss Joon Oluchi Lee’s “Lady Sings the Hill Street Blues” on lipstickeater.)
The outro vocal riff–inappropriately sung in Tagalog instead of Visayan, the dialect of the region–is actually the ‘rents nod to my childhood curiosity, as well as an uncanny prophecy about my adult identity crises. My grandmother bestowed me with the nickname “Ayen” (babytalk for “Karen,” I suppose). Fresh off the boat in Honolulu, and bereft after moving far away from her at the age of 4, I would spend my afternoons following my soon to be step-dad around asking, “Anong ginagawa mo?” [L: in Honolulu, first U.S. migration, 1980]
["What are you doing now, Ayen? You're an American, and I am Visayan."]
You are an American, Ayen. And while it didn’t feel quite like it in ’86, for better and worse, it sure feels like it now in 2008. So much migration, immigration, post-colonial, bi-racial- upbringing drama to work through here. But it wouldn’t be Oh! Industry without these subtexts, so let’s leave it at that for now and welcome our loved ones home, returning from what has already been a long journey home to the “island of dreams.” – (KT)