bushwhacking gloria

by ninotchka rosca

It’s the most popular item on the HuffPost, with nearly 200,000 viewers and nearly 1,500 comments, most expressing astonishment at what George W. said to Gloria Mac-Arroyo, de facto president to de facto president. He said “First, I want to tell you how proud I am to be the President of a nation that — in which there’s a lot of Philippine-Americans. They love America and they love their heritage. And I reminded the President that I am reminded of the great talent of the — of our Philippine-Americans when I eat dinner at the White House.” And then added: “And the chef is a great person and a really good cook, by the way, Madam President. ”

I wish she’d replied, with a smile, “thanks and General Taguba was no pushover either” or “I hope she serves you dinuguan” or “have you checked on your dogs lately?” But she sat there like stone, muttering “thank you” as George W. Bush stereotyped her and her entire nation.

Oich! To discern ethnic stereotyping can be difficult, especially if one has had little experience with racism. In my early months in New York, a guest at a dinner given in my honor started telling me about her maid in Italy. This guest was Rome bureau head of a mega news magazine and she had a “Filipino maid” who was, as she put it, a “good person” but who had started pilfering small items. Embarrassed, I vacillated between allegiance to my compatriot (how much was this news great paying her?) and being polite, per Catholic nuns’ instruction. Fortunately, my host returned from the kitchen, asked what we were talking about, gave me a swift glance, and started shouting at her guest: “Why are you telling her this? She’s a journalist and a writer. What’s she got to do with maids? With your maid?”

The Rome bureau head stuttered, turned red and said, “I just thought…” My host snapped: “Well, you just stop that thought right now!”

Not having experienced insidious, constant and subtle ethnicstereotyping, I had to work out the subtext of that conversation in my sleep and woke up furious. A year later, as guest of honor at a one-woman show at a Washington D.C. art gallery, I was introduced to the artist’s mother, who promptly said: “Oh, you’re from the Philippines! My daughter’s nanny is from the Philippines.” By then, I could snap back: “What a coincidence! My secretary’s white!”

How ironic that one had to be prickly to fit into this society, especially when one wasn’t white. But one had to acquire armor against the subtle put-downs, usually given when one was occupying, in the eyes of the put-downer, a “privileged” position. When my first book was reviewed favorably by the Times and my excited landlady made practically everyone in our building read the article, one neighbor who had a toy terrier with a diamond collar asked, “is it true Filipinos eat dogs?” I said of course and called out to his dog, “here, Foxy, here; straight to the kitchen, I’ll make you a good dinner.”

Sometimes you just have to out gross “them.”

Many Filipinos do not get this kind of nuanced insult. Some would even be flattered that George W. remembered the Filipina chef in the White House kitchen, “a very good cook,” chrissakes. It’s akin to the pleasure we feel when a feudal warlord joins the town fiesta and dances with the hoi polloi; never mind that he’s just taken away half of the harvest. I’ve had Filipinos tell me to “please not insult our American friend” who’s just insulted me galore, as if they, despite citizenship, weren’t Americans. I would’ve dearly loved to have said “neither can your president” to this guy in my neighborhood – a guy who, upon catching sight of me walking on the sidewalk, said over his cell phone that the place was beginning to be full of aliens “who can’t even speak English.” As it was, I could only advise him to buy a Vlasik and sit on it.

Two things mystify me about this Gloria Mac-Arroyo visit. First, the “roll-in-the-dust” gratitude for the paltry sum of $700 million in aid, considering the public humiliation. If it’s just a matter of money, overseas Filipino workers send home up to $20 billion per year, without needing to insult anyone. Had Gloria Mac-Arroyo been attentive to their needs – ordered the government to negotiate for really decent wages and working conditions for domestic workers, instead of the monthly $200 they get at the United Arab Emirates, for instance, working 16 hours 24/7 – the bloody $700 million would’ve meant only a hundreddollar donation per OFW. Were the Philippine government just a shade more caring, OFW’s would’ve sent home an extra billion dollars, with pleasure and without subjecting even the most deserving public servant to public embarrassment.

More, that would’ve been cold, hard cash — unlike foreign aid, which is usually spent on goods made by American corporations and on salaries for American experts who tell Filipinos what to do and how to do it. Aid is not aid for the recipient country; it is aid for American big business who thus are spared the need to be grateful for U.S. taxpayer’s money. More, such goods invariably change the lifestyle of the recipient country so it becomes a vulnerable market for U.S. goods. It’s part of the national US budget for advertising. Consider that at one time, the weight-loss meal replacement Metrecal was sent to the Philippines as part of foreign aid.

After all these years of receiving foreign aid, one would expect Philippine government officials to conclude that foreign aid, foreign investments, etc., do not solve/resolve anything; that issues of poverty and inequity have to be resolved at ground level, by our bootstraps, as it were.

The second mystifying thing is why Gloria Mac-Arroyo started thanking U.S. congress people for the Filipino Veterans Equity Bill – which is not even approved yet. The bill is intended to provide pensions for the few surviving Filipinos who fought with USAFFE in WWII; they were denied equal benefits as U.S. soldiers by the Rescission Act of 1946 which declared that the services of some 250,000 Filipinos under the U.S. Armed Forces in the Far East “shall not be deemed to be or to have been service in the military or national forces of the United States or any component thereof or any law of the United States conferring rights, privileges or benefits.”

That clause meant no medical attention, no recognition, nothing whatsoever, all history of that service erased. I have occasionally exclaimed, “that’s what you get for fighting under a foreign flag” but this is such a palpable act of racism it cannot be overlooked.

Over the years, the veterans and a few allies have fought to eke out “rights, privileges or benefits,” starting with access to the Veterans Hospital. Now here comes Gloria Mac-Arroyo thanking US legislators for an unpassed bill, pretending that she had had a role in the struggle for veterans’ rights. And who weren’t thanked for this struggle for equal rights? Why the veterans themselves, the Fil-Am community of supporters, advocates who’d gotten old and hoarse trying to correct this discrimination. As 86-year-old veteran Faustino Baclig said, “sobra ang tsu-tsu” (too much of a suck-up).

Because the Philippine government refuses to recognize and rely on the indomitable character of the people it purportedly governs and represents, because the Philippine government continues to be led by suck-ups, all who are of Philippine ancestry become vulnerable to ethnic stereotyping, public humiliation and the disgrace of being perpetual beggars even as the Philippines gives away all of its resources — from human to natural. Sad, just too sad. — ##


  1. Her feudal mindset is showing, this time around not as master but as a subject to a colonial master.

    Should I be upset over it, nahhhhh she deserves it, besides she took it like a typical subservient subject. I guess she is not that smart after all and all that Napoleonic complex was really all for show and deep inside she is just one insecure trapo whose greed and insatiable appetite for power gets the better of her. She has no one to blame but herself and her fellow trapos for bringing the nation down and putting herself in a situation where she is more of a nuisance beggar when she could have used her position and power to uplift our nation and people.

    It just shows that there are people better than her like Ninotchka who will not take shit from anyone and so should we…… besides I don’t consider her as the Philippines legitimate president and therefore does not represent this Jaywalker.

  2. I disagree!

    George W. Bush might just singlehandedly have pushed Philippine cuisine into the American mainstream, which decades of nationalist raving and ranting has not been able to do.

    As for ninotchka rosca, if you knew half of her biography, you wouldn’t be gracing this blog with her name. Like Joma she’s a parasite on the hide of her host country. Yecch!

  3. Para kay DJB Rizalist:

    Hindi rin naman nagawa iyan ng ranting and raving mo sa blog mo — o sa kahit saan. Salamat sa pagtingin mo, nakikita nating talaga namang tumutugma ang ganitong ethnic stereotyping sa dikta ng pamilihan. Eh mabuti ba kung cook ka sa ibang bansa, o OFW, baka maunawaan pa kita. Pero komportable ka lang naman sa heckling mo dito sa Pilipinas.

    Napakalaki ng problema mo — pati ni MLQ3 sa kaso ni Jun Lozada — kapag nagku-quote ang mga tao ng mga maka-Kaliwa. Samantalang kayong mga maka-Kanan, nagkalat sa mundo. Ang sistemang ipinagtatanggol mo, parasitiko sa mga mamamayan.

  4. djb: your president bush’s chef specializes in american cuisine, so what’s this about pushing philippine cuisine.

    as for ninotchka, what’s this about her history. di ba sabi mo, “I care more about the Future than I do the Past” ?

    teo’s right. this is just another knee-jerk reaction to anything from the left, as though the right were pure as driven snow. lol

  5. Ayan na naman kayong dalawa (Teo and Angela),nagtataray na naman kayo,you guys ha… Aren’t we all amused that, on DJB Rizalist’s account, we are all reminded that a pact with the powerful does not register online without ironic self-betrayal?

  6. What’s new…


    You realise that this is nothing new — Bushie merely joined the international community when he said to Gloria, the de facto prez of the Philippines that she reminds him of his kitchen help. I still have to meet someone where I’m based who doesn’t boast of possessing Philippine domestic helper, nanny, gardener, busboy, etc.

    The difference between me and Gloria is that whenever I meet a person who boasts of possessing Filipino labour in his/her household in the EU or in NATO functions is that I don’t ever ever say “Thank you.” (Gloria, having no shame nor dignity would kiss the ground Bush walks on.)

    Sometimes, when I’ve had more than one cocktail, I would quip, You mean, you can afford? You must be wealthy! Filipino help is darn expensive!” (knowing that most of the time, unlike folks working in industry, these EU civil servants live on their meagre salaries and NATO folks are not exactly that well off.)

  7. hey anna ;) yes nothing new, except for bushie so publicly joining the club of pinoy downers who don’t know better. but great to hear the little stories of pinoys, pinays, snapping back, for a change.

  8. I didn’t feel it was offensive, though. That’s probably because I, like you were, don’t have experience with racism?

    Except when I was in a tour in Thailand, where a tour guide called to me: “Hey, you saying something?.. yes you, Filipino!” I realized it was offensive only after I woke up the other day.

  9. hey j ;) now that you mention it, oo nga, haven’t experienced it myself. if anything, ako pa nga yata ang racist in the sense na i’m wary of foreigners in general – must have something to do with our historical experience. actually what i found really offensive was gma’s thank you ;-(

  10. J is right — I don’t believe that Dubya’s comments smacks of racist overtones, just of downright ignorance. Frankly, I don’t believe the guys who also boast to me that they possess Filipino labour at home were being racist. Matter of fact, when they do that, I think they’re merely trying to be social but one doesn’t have to “thank” the guy for mouthing that kind of drivel.

    On my side, I’ve been almost always suspected of being Chinese, Vietnamese, etc. but most of the time, I’m taken for a Thai, etc. (even in Thailand, customs officers would talk to me in Thai — hahah, and once, I was at a counter at the Thai Intl airport, a Thai woman came up to me asking for my autograph — couldn’t understand what she was on about until the sales clerk said, she thought you were the Thai TV star so and so — I roared in laughter but was flattered by the thought!) but I was never, or almost never suspected of being Filipino that’s why most are suprised when I say I’m a Filipino (or maybe because I’m usually taller than most Filipina women they’ve met — I don’t know) and I guess that’s why people I meet here try to make up by making lil talks about owning Filipino labour at home.

  11. Anna, yes and they don’t have any idea it might be offensive.

    Well mentioning your Filipino maid to a Filipino might not be a prudent thing to do. But I don’t find it racist.

    In Japan, I met a certain Susan Wellington from the British Embassy. We were both judges in the national debate tournament. She thought I was full-blooded Japanese. When I told her I was born in the Philippines, she said: “Oh, our cook (or driver, I’m not sure now) is Filipino! And he’s very hardworking.”

    Then she went on to say how she prefers Filipinos over other nationalities because Filipinos can easily adapt with other cultures.

    I wasn’t offended. In fact, I felt proud.

    But of course, there are some who would mention their maids to you with the intent of insulting you. Now, that’s racist. But this isn’t the case with Bush I think.

  12. can anyone believe bush when he says that he is proud of the filipinos in the light of the war in Mindanao, Balikatan exercises, Oplan Bantay Laya, etc?

    and do some of us really think that the most powerful fascist on earth needs anybody to defend him against ninotchka or angela?

    for whom are we saying that bush did not mean to be racist or never intended to insult anyone?

  13. pogidaga

    Bush is not a racist. He’s a tongue-tied liar, an ignorant elitist hick, and an embarrassment to Democracy. He may also be a sociopathic moron. But to call him a racist is just insulting racists. After hurricane Katrina, Kanye West said that “Bush hates black people.” Kanye missed the point. Bush hates POOR people not black. Or at least he doesn’t give a damn about poor people.

  14. i have a question about this incident that i’ve asked in other blogs:

    why was this offensive? Didn’t he say that he liked the cooking of the white house chef? Isn’t the white house chef a skilled food artisan who can find work in any restaurant in the world? Why is this racism? Is it the profession(service? cooking?) thats the matter? If he associated filipino talent with lawyering, is that better and why?

    thanks, if u could help me understand