Musings During Quarantine
by Metty Pellicer
July 10, 2020
I love to travel and have been on all seven continents from Antarctica to Zanzibar in Africa, and including the South Seas, and Bhutan, Nepal, Myanmar, Taiwan. Last I counted, I’ve visited about one hundred countries and at least five times as many cities. I’ve been to most of the of the states in the U.S and Alaska and Hawaii. except Nebraska, Rhode Island, Kansas, and Vermont.
Traveling the world is an important way to understand other cultures because they are often much different than the filtered perspectives we receive here in the U.S. Too many Americans travel only for entertainment, to view beautiful monuments and scenery, and don’t go beyond the Americanized tourist establishments into the real country surrounding them. Many don’t even try the food of that country or region. Traveling and immersing yourself in other cultures expose, very quickly, how limited our perspective is and how incorrect many of our assumptions are. For example, I now look at India and Indians with greater empathy. Where before I viewed them as too aggressive and self-serving in their pursuit of social mobility, I now view their competitiveness as a survival tool in a country with over a billion people and limited resources. I have been to many poor and rich nations and am able to see that they/we all have very similar features in the way we live, our values and more. The good and the bad are nearly the same everywhere. When you are able to experience other countries this way, it makes clear that America needs to stop imposing its culture on others who don’t want it.
I was born in the Philippines and became a U.S. citizen, naturalized in 1980. I left the Philippines in 1967, the first among my family to immigrate. I escaped the Marcos regime, but my younger siblings had to endure it. My parents believed that sending all of us to the USA would give us the best opportunity to pursue our dreams. My background and the amount of traveling I have done has allowed me to see behind the curtain of American foreign policy in ways that the average American citizen is not exposed to. In other places, there is no curtain to pull back. America’s policies are much more blatant abroad. Most of the propaganda effort about what ‘America stands for’ is spent on its own people, so the people will continue to believe in the illusion of its greatness and fairness and benevolence..
Unfortunately, the USA is viewed as a bully in many parts of the world. Much of this is because the US feels it is superior to everyone else and carries “We are the greatest nation on Earth!” with it wherever it goes. When we interfere with other countries, it’s framed in a sort of ‘we are coming to help whether you like it or not’ fashion…which means, the USA will tell them how to live and what they can and can’t do in their own country. This is a difficult negotiation for other nations that know we are all interdependent and still see the U.S. as a land of opportunity.
This is no secret to those who live abroad because so many have been on the receiving end of US-led interference. They have experienced it first-hand. Most Americans cannot imagine what it would be like to have an outside culture and power come to one’s country and begin dictating how you live, what you do, how you do it, take your resources, impose religion, enforce government structure, and potentially kill many innocent civilians along the way. The closest one could have a faint approximation of this experience is to travel and stay more than a week in a non-urban location in a non-western country such as Iran, or, Japan,Malaysia, Bhutan, or Borneo. or Israel. One is completely a foreigner in these countries, and one can experience disorientation and complete loss of reference point, and that is without incorporating a personal danger element into the experience. Immigrants feel this way more or less when they first arrive in the US. Now if you could think you are in your country and someone powerful comes to dictate how you should comply with its rules because of war or national agreement, how would you react? There are many direct experiences of this for people of other countries. Because of what they have endured, the sentiment is that the U.S. comes in pretending to be a savior, then takes the country’s resources and its soul.
The deals we make are too often unfair and humiliating to the country on the other end of our bargains. The U.S. became involved in the Philippines during the Spanish-American war after it got involved in Cuba. Both countries were fighting a war of independence from Spain. Both made a deal with the USA to fight the common enemy but the U.S. betrayed the revolution in the Philippines. At the Treaty of Paris, the U.S. acquired the Philippines together with Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guam, Marianas, American Samoa, St. Thomas, St. John, etc. They gave Cuba its independence after a brief military occupation, mostly to serve the business interests of the elites of both countries, but decided to “civilize and Christianize” the Philippines, according to then President McKinley, a rationalization of its expansionist goals. Never mind that the Philippines had been Catholic under Spain for two hundred and fifty years already! Much of the modern civilization progress promised served the oligarchs and the revenue from extracting minerals, wood products, sugar, tobacco, etc., went into very few pockets…not to the people of the Philippines.
Although Spain had primarily left the Southern Philippines alone, an area with many Muslims, the U.S. adopted an aggressive policy toward those citizens. They attempted to ‘civilize’ and control them, similar to their treatment of Native Americans. They enforced relocation and gave the land to the northern settlers for the oligarchs’ pineapple plantations. The Muslims of Southern Philippines have not forgotten that to this day and are still fighting a guerrilla war and trying to secede.
I have always viewed the USA from the lens of what it did in the Philippines. I had no illusions. On the balance sheet, it is still the land of opportunity for the bright, for the talented, for the beautiful, for the brave ethnic or colored person, and for White people, they are several steps ahead already, and so of course. It is a land of opportunity for them also. It is much harder for those who are ‘less intelligent’, mentally ill, disabled, or ‘unattractive, who look different than White. Still, those viewed by this society’s framework as ‘lesser others’, can do better here relative to some other nations because their rights are protected by laws and they can demand redress if violated. Unless Trump succeeds in revamping immigration, the USA is still the best country for an able bodied, talented and bright immigrant to fulfill his/her dreams. But we must remember that the picture of how possible this is, how likely it is, how easy it is, how fair it is, how safe it is, how ‘just’ The USA says it is, are still predominantly illusions made of words. Those words are an idealism for the country to strive toward and that idealism attracts people to come here. For most, those words are still far from reality.
I have worked hard and succeeded in this country and I contribute greatly to my community. I am a doctor of Medicine and a specialist in psychiatry and child psychiatry. I am Board Certified and had a large private practice with a multidisciplinary staff of psychologists and social workers. I had three offices and was the President of the medical staff, head of the child and outpatient program, and clinical professor in the College of Medicine. However, I have certainly been met with inappropriate challenges.
When I interviewed for admission to the College of Medicine in the University of the Philippines in 1962, the Secretary of the College asked why I was “wasting a slot in the college when it could be filled by a young man; that I will just get married and then stay home and not practice”. He then suggested, “Why don’t you work in a bank or become a stewardess? There you will meet rising and successful young men and you could get married and stay home to raise your family.” I was nineteen and these statements made no sense to me, but I managed a trite response, “Oh no, sir, I assure you, I’m committed to practicing medicine and serving humanity!” I got in. Years later, I learned that women with higher GPA’s were denied admission in favor of men with lower achievements.
While practicing medicine in the ‘women are equal’ U.S., I have experienced an elderly, white, southern man who refused my service and asked directly for a white male doctor. I have also noticed that, when I have meetings with parents, often the father will have a hefty set of question about my diagnosis and treatment plan. I have come to find that my male counterparts rarely encounter this level of questioning. So, I realize that these men are not asking these questions to learn more the diagnosis; they are grilling me harder to prove my knowledge as a female doctor. They are setting a higher bar for me to earn their trust and respect.
The election of Donald Trump has put a spotlight on sexism and nearly every other ‘ism’ in this country. It is upsetting to see that it isn’t just men holding women down. This election displayed the number of women who uphold and perpetuate sexism toward all of us women without even being aware of what they are doing. I have spoken to women who talk about Trump like they are middle schoolers with a crush on a teen idol. They act as though they’d actually feel flattered if Trump grabbed their butts or ‘you know whats’. They express hatred for Hillary because they see her as sanctimonious and judgmental without similar insight into themselves. There are women who want to be like Melania, or Cinderella, or Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady and could not understand why other women would like to be different. Too many women have been cultured to dislike self-made, ambitious women like Hillary, because her power and accomplishments threaten their place with men who view them on a pedestal or she makes them feel as if their lives lack something. There are often women who will say things like, “My husband let me do everything I want to do, I don’t need to be liberated!”
In many ways, I feel that things are the same as they were before the election. The difference is that Trump spoke the rhetoric openly and then was rewarded with the Presidency which gave license to closet haters…those who had been more careful to say things behind closed doors and to refrain from physical acts of hatred… to hate openly. They feel they have national support, are a larger group than they are, and have accomplished some sort of take-over. This is creating a dangerous situation for the majority of Americans. And what is dangerous for most would be complacency. Letting things happen and hoping that it will change. But change does not happen unless one does something about it. Not voting is the most dangerous of all behaviors.
We must beware who will be writing the history, from whose perspective it will be viewed. We need to examine how history is being taught to our children. For too long, history has been taught to advance the propaganda of the nation. Too often the nation’s message is the propaganda of the oligarchs which is heavily weighted to their interest. Nobody learns from propaganda. If action is needed, it is in education. We need to have level-headed, non-political agenda driven groups examining school curriculum. Take the case of the school teaching creationism as the origin of the universe…Federal oversight will be needed to stop some states from spreading nonsense such as this and polluting the minds of the children who will lead the world’s future. Loss of true history will allow it to be repeated. History documented by the dominant sector without mention of the contribution to the story of the other sectors on the margins will not give a true image of the people it is telling about, it will be fragile and will hasten the weakening of its society.
And we may be repeating the history of the fall of the Roman Empire if we are not vigilant in preventing the rise of forces that will topple this empire today much like the ancients. Ii terms of cyclical phenomenon, the US is due for disintegration if nothing is done to halt the forces that contribute to its demise. The Trump era is hurtling us further and quicker to our destruction. What are the conditions that are being played out now that cost the ancients their empire and every other sovereign greats since? The rise of the oligarchs is at the head, where power and fortune are concentrated among a few, whereas poverty is gaining more numbers among the nation’s citizens. Lack of empathy for the situation of others who may be different from the dominant few, and this sets the stage for otherness, and therefore justifies the actions of those who rule them. Loss of trust in institutions, corruption, political instability, loss of relationships, loss of community, and most damning of all is complacency and reliance on wish-fulfillment. We can learn from the actions of the German populace, how their attitudes towards nationalism and behavior promoting self-interest allowed the rise of Hitler. So I see the protests as healthy, but certainly education about the issues and self monitoring of one’s attitudes and beliefs and how these shapes one’s choices and actions and taking an active decision towards the common good and finding the expression in shared goals, not just self-serving insular, isolationist, individualistic tribal short-term goals.This requires courage to know oneself and own up to one’s prejudices, but once uncovered the wisdom to appeal to one’s higher aspirations for nobility of character. The human aspiration to be noble is being eroded systematically and we need to seize the soul of the nation from descending into hell. We need average men and women to act heroically, and the hero is in all of us, we must believe that or else we lose hope.