In an outright humorous poem “Letter to Pedro, U.S. Citizen, Also Called Pete”, the poet reveals the sundry issues that encumber a particular locality. Amidst the political, social, moral, environmental, and spiritual problems, I think that the apparent dilemma that strikes me upon reading the poem is the addressee’s entrapment to American Dream. Gaps have been filled when we peer through the persona’s cataloguing of the different circumstances that cause the decay of their barrio. But I somehow feel a bit of admiration towards the persona despite the destitution that prevails in his place. On the other hand, what irks me is the fact that in order to escape from this degradation, the addressee left for America as an implied way to avoid the pressing issues faced by the community.
I want to focus on the title, equating it with the word ESCAPE. “Letter to Pedro, U.S. Citizen, Also Called Pete.” U.S. Citizen. Admittedly, some Filipinos, if not all, dream of becoming a U.S. citizen. We think of the United States of America as the “land of milk and honey” where family members who work there effortlessly earn a lot of dollar bills and send us boxes of chocolates, Victoria Secret perfumes and Gap t-shirts. We think of the United States of America as the Promised Land that would provide us the sanctuary of conveniences that we want in life as Filipinos. And so we escape. Uprooted from our own identity , we forget who we are. Juans become Johns, Estebans become Steves, Pedros become Petes, as apparent in the line
Islaw, your cock-eyed
uncle, now calls himself Stanley
after he began wearing the clothes you sent
him last Christmas.
In the poem, the evidence of colonial mentality is very much apparent. The letter itself addressed Pedro/Pete who has left the barrio and now lives in the U.S. would represent our attachment to what is America. It is a form of escape where in fact such issues like politics, poverty, moral degradation and spiritual blindness are seemingly inescapable. We get ourselves drunk because
Pete, old friend,
every time we have good reason to get drunk
and be carried home in a wheelbarrow
we always remember you. Oh, we miss you
both Pete and Pedro.
We become drunk of this desire only to realize that it is far-fetched and even unreal. In fact, there is this uncertainty that the letter may never get a response from the addressee himself, since he has already embraced America as revealed by the persona
Remember us to your American wife,
you lucky bastard…
while his friends in the barrio remain struggling against the social, political, and spiritual puddles.
The American Dream has been an elusive dream for some of us Filipinos. And I think, the poet emphasizes through his poem the very essence of being grounded to our roots. Problems are inevitable and changes, no matter how we avoid them, will always pervade our lives. What matters is that, we Filipinos must always have a sense of community.
Lastly, as a writer, I am reminded by F. Sionil Jose in his essay “To The Young Writer” wherein he wrote, “…write whenever you can do it best, in exile perhaps, but never never leave your village, your town, your beginning. Enshrine it in your heart, sanctify it in your mind for your beginning gives you your soul, your humanity.”