Of May day, elections and patriotism: a Fil Am perspective

Author, Carlene Sobrino Bonnivier, in a photo taken about a year after Woodstock, a 3- day yconcert for peace, in 1969 .

Author, Carlene Sobrino Bonnivier, in a photo taken about a year after Woodstock.

By Carlene Sobrino Bonnivier of The FILAMLA

May Day, 1971, near DuPont Circle, Washington, DC.

(I hadn’t gone to Woodstock in 1969. I was not a Hippie, though I did go to the Washington Mall to celebrate the first official Earth Day. A week or two later I returned to the Mall, joining thousands of mostly young people to commemorate and protest the killing of unarmed Kent State University students. I’d been teargassed that day. Awful, awful stuff).

This day, I was home alone because all three of my roommates, along with a football stadium of thousands of other people had gone out that May Day morning to protest the war in Vietnam by stopping traffic. They had been arrested before, so they knew what to do, and they’d even taken their books with them so they could study while they waited for their parents to come get them.

I was on the couch, my textbook on my lap, concentration wandering, wondering if I should have gone with them, feeling a little guilty and maybe even cowardly. But I had to study for a test. Besides, I had no one to bail me out.

Today, with my roommates gone, I was free to play what I liked on the radio. There was one station in D.C. that played Soul Music, and today I was free to listen to it for as long and as loud as I wanted. I got up, turned on the radio, found the station and jacked the volume way up. What I heard surprised me. I sat back down and listened.

Someone on the radio was doing something with his guitar that sounded a little terrifying but I didn’t want to turn it off. It took me a minute to recognize what he was playing. It was “The Star Spangled Banner.” I listened to it as I had never listened to it before. It had a new meaning, a brand new meaning.

I had never really heard it like that, as music, and I don’t believe I’d ever felt very deeply the way I was supposed to feel. Like most people, I couldn’t sing it without a struggle. Maybe that was part of why I had never felt that the song was mine . . . until now, sitting there on that couch, listening to this man playing this music.

It spoke to me in a language that I could understand and trust, and I heard from Hendrix a love that was incomparably stronger and deeper than any love of country I’d heard before. What I heard was this:

No matter what, my heart will not break completely, I will not surrender completely, I will keep on loving you. No matter what!

Then a pause and a softer almost secret message: I could die for this country . . . if it just doesn’t kill me.” It was a torrent. It was a raging ocean and it wasn’t going to be held back another minute. This was it. Now.

When the music ended, the disk jockey said, “No one has ever wailed like Jimi Hendrix.”

He was almost right. But, he hadn’t heard the woman on Temple Street, someone I hadn’t often thought about, but I was struck by how much she felt, to me, like Hendrix. I hadn’t known that what she felt and cried out about could be pushed out of a guitar. Maybe no one had dared to try it before. It was a blasphemy. It was a truth.

April 12, 1945, Temple Street, (Filipino town), Los Angeles: I was out on my front porch going head first, round and round, on the hand rail that was meant to stop me from falling six feet to the sidewalk. I was upside down, hanging there on the porch, when I heard a painful body-piercing sound, a sound I had never heard before: An underground train breaking through the earth. A low down train whistle blowing too low, too loose and crazy to stop before the crash. It said: Heed me! It said, Help me!

Then I saw her. She was a Colored woman, sort of stumbling, walking out of the alley onto my street. She bent over and seemed to be searching for something on the ground. Suddenly her back straightened and she made a high pitched scream, like a police siren, made you want to run to safety, but at the same time sensing she wouldn’t hurt you or anyone.

She stood straight, frozen, though I could see she was still searching, this time with her eyes closed. Her body softened when the words finally came. At first she spoke softly: “The President.” Then more loudly: “The President of the United States!” Then a terrifying howl: “Oh . . . hear me . . . Lord! Have mercy! Our President Roosevelt is dead!”

Since that day and as I grew, I developed a strong interest in Presidents, particularly FDR. The more I learned about him and his policies, the deeper my understanding was of the woman’s loss.

I didn’t hear anything like that woman’s voice again for 25 years. Maybe I was,
by then, in the middle of the Nixon years and the war in Vietnam, ready for a champion of my own, someone who would champion my ideas, my hopes, my generation.

Filipino Americans for Hillary gather under the banner of the NAFAA with  President emeritus Loida Nicolas Lewis, in Los Angeles.  Photo by TetBee of  The FILAMLA.

Filipino Americans for Hillary gather under the banner of the NAFAA with President emeritus Loida Nicolas Lewis, in Los Angeles. Photo by TetBee of The FILAMLA.

Back in Los Angeles, Presidential Primaries, 2016: Today, again, we are hearing blasphemy. Some take it as Truth: From the Republicans through Donald Trump’s Archie-Bunker-on-PCP approach to problem-solving. From the Democrats through Bernie Sanders (on his own Fairy Dust) calling for a revolution.

Trump has ascended to the stature of an angry Samson who, with shear brute force, is bringing down the Temple. We don’t know what he’ll do with the rubble (maybe build a wall). Sanders has become an Isaiah, exhorting us to level the hills and the mountains and lift the valleys up. He does have a plan, and it echoes the New Deal that Franklin Delano Roosevelt brought to our impoverished Nation in the 1930s.

We owe it to both Sanders and Trump that the politicians, including Hillary Clinton, have heard the warnings and taken them to heart. We need some blasphemy.

The youngest voters, for reasons I understand and applaud, love Bernie. The millennials were just about coming of age in 2010 when Citizens United was given the green light by the Supreme Court. (Were these young people astute enough to see that politicians, once they had declared their candidacy, winked an eye at the pretense that they had no knowledge of what the super PACs had or where the money came from or who it was they would be beholden to?

Did they find it odd or did they accept it that as of 2010, corporations were legally “People” and money was legally “Free Speech”?) While members of Congress were becoming more and more indebted to their corporate donors, high-interest loans for college tuition and the tuition themselves had grown to gargantuan proportions, and the parents of these young people were working longer hours for less pay to try to meet their mortgage payments. What was going wrong?

We should have known what was happening. Some did. In the Spring of 2014, I picked up my copy of The New Yorker and saw an article entitled: “Is America an Oligarchy?” This was not the Daily Worker. It was a magazine aimed at my Demographic, at people not living in poverty, at me.

The wailing woman who came out of the alley in 1945 probably didn’t know an oligarchy from a democracy, but she knew that she loved her champion. Hendrix knew how to keep on loving, even if he had no champion.

Sanders could be our champion, but I do not trust the Congress or the great wide and wild world to work well with Bernie Sanders. I fear he’ll be blind-sided, stone-walled, stopped in his tracks. Hillary Clinton is a better candidate because of Bernie Sanders. She has a far better chance of knowing, from her global and personal experience how to deal with real issues, issues with long histories and crises that suddenly crop up. She also knows how to deal with groups of people, not just in our nation but in the world, groups that Sanders certainly will possibly only have dealt with in theory if at all. (Trump would be totally out of his league both in matters of diplomacy and in matters of war.)

Hillary Clinton with the fastest-growing voting group in the country. Photos by Tet Valdez and Evangeline Rodriguez.

Hillary Clinton with the fastest-growing voting group in the country. Photos by Tet Valdez and Evangeline Rodriguez.

Hillary Clinton is smart enough to negotiate through possible conflicts of interest, at least as adept as the other members of Congress (the overwhelming majority) who raise money for their political campaigns. She has proved that she is tough enough and wise enough to work with the Congress and with Heads of States, whether friendly or unfriendly. Sanders has grandiose ideas of making right the wrongs of our economy; even if they were realistic, I doubt he would be able to convince the opponents of “socialist” ideas.

Hillary Clinton has my vote. Today. That vote, however weakened its power has become, is really all I have to offer this nation that I love. It probably won’t kill me but, seriously, I don’t know about you.

Carlene Sobrino Bonnivier is Writer and editor of the Anthology “Filipinotown – Voices from Los Angeles”
(2nd Ed––with Teachers’ Guide––now on Amazon.com)
Website: http://www.seekingthirst.com

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