Monday, March 17, 2014

The Duke
The first Pinoy I ever met in Calgary

Or: Some other Daydreaming Kid's Response to Losing 'Status'

Written in: Calgary, Alberta, Canada
Composition: Recalling events which happened 17 years ago
                         when I was new to Calgary - because this blog
                         has just made a breakthrough.
Previous Post: The All-Encompassing Rant about what it was like
                          to be new to Canada out in The Duke's parents' basement was always a weird experience. He would often go on and on about his young life in the Philippines, and I would just try and browse his car magazines, porn, and some of his rap CDs. I was into 90's grunge, alternative and metal; he was into gangsta rap. Had this scenario been playing in the Philippines, I would never have probably even talked to him, let alone gotten invited to his lair to smoke some pot.

"The Duke" obviously wasn't his name, but let's call him that. It is how one of his names translates into English. He was the first Filipino, outside of family, I ever met in Calgary, way back in early 1997. We went to the same junior high. He saw me, the newcomer, and introduced himself. At the time, I thought, 'Neat! I made a friend!'

Then I realized, something was off about him from the get-go.

His stories often revolved around how wealthy, important, and well connected they were back in the Philippines, and I would just take everything with a grain of salt. In Pinoy lingo, he might be called as mahangin. The direct translation is 'windy', but it does not mean windbag.  More like, a person who embellishes their stories.


The part that's bonkers is that I actually ended up embellishing my stories too! But on the other end of the spectrum. I may have dwelt on the fact that moving to Canada was a step up. "Look! This is a great society! This is a rich contry! I'm thankful to be here!"  Bla bla bla...  Being my first three months here - being the honeymoon period with Canada and all - I still subscribed to the idea that things were going to be ok.

The Duke would often name drop important places and celebrities. Like how his family had houses in DasmariƱas, Alabang, White Plains, Forbes and all those big name places. Or how he either once knew Donita Rose or had been dating her? I dunno. I've since forgotten what his claims were. He also had this regular story about how he was going to be a big rapper in the Philippines and his uncle was a record label owner or something or another over there. His chosen stage name closely resembled Snoop Dogg, so I called him out on it.

I asked him, "Like Snoop Dogg?"

He was surprised I knew.

I actually don't remember when he said he moved here in Calgary. I would wager early 90's, when rap was big in the Philippines, DJ mixing was the thing, and we would have been only around 10 to 11 years old - which means when I met him, he had been in Calgary for 5 to 6 years. I mean, that's my guess because it all lines up - he remembers enough to name important places and important celebrities, but what he knows is so out of touch. No way you could have been a big rap superstar in the Philippines in 1997. In fact, I could remember a time in the Philippines when hip hop fans were social pariahs. NU107 was the radio station to listen to and any group with a guitar was the way to go. 1998's artist(s) of the year was Wolfgang - a band on the heavier end of the heavy metal spectrum.

I guess underground hip hop clubs could've been still a thing. But he wasn't talking about being underground - he was going to be a superstar. So he said.

Yeah, right. Whatever, I thought. If that's the case, then, what is your sorry ass doing here? Of course I never did call him out. It's a Pinoy thing - let him have his fun, don't call him out so that he won't lose face.

Actually, he may have been weird and 'off' on so many ways, but I was just glad to hang out with someone from the 'motherland'. Or anyone, for that matter. Like I said in another post, in junior high, I was the only kid to arrive fresh off the plane, with much of their schoolyear already done. The fact that someone invited me at all into his basement to smoke pot was something. That was actually really nice of him, now that I look back at it.

One time, before he got too high, he bragged about how a family of his was a close friend and crony to Ferdinand Marcos, during his presidency. Whether it was a Grandfather or Granduncle, I have since forgotten. I also don't now know whether it was an Army General or Philippine Constabulary Chief. Again, I have since forgotten.

The good part is that he actually produced an old photo, taken professionally and in black and white. Pictured was The Duke's relative, nameplate visible, shaking the late Philippine dictator's hand. Cool!

To this day, I'm still skeptical of all his 'plans' back then of returning to the Philippines and becoming a superstar - 17 years on, he is not now and never was a name there. More dubious were his claims of having dated or known Donita Rose - she's way older than us, and is a real celeb in the Philippines and even Southeast Asia. His claim was like saying, "I am going out with Anne Hathaway". And all those multi-million dollar properties in the megacity of Metro Manila? Maybe someone in his extended family did and perhaps still does own properties? Who knows. I do concede that you don't get to be a Marcos crony and still be a nobody. But, a regime change does a lot to reworking who holds power back in the 'motherland', and 1997 was a decade plus a year after Marcos was ousted. At the very most, I would give benefit of the doubt that his family could have been relatively big players back in the Philippines.

Nonetheless, I actually think The Duke may have been one of the cooler kids in the Philippines. He had the features of a mestizo and he was fairly tall for a Pinoy. If he had said he had Spanish blood in him, I would have said, "Yeah, I can see it." Which can't be said of so many Filipinos who do the same. He had the swagger and confidence of an entitled kid who often got his way; like he just exuded effortless popularity - something which, come to think of it now, I saw very rarely in the Filipino newcomers, even the generation 1.5 Patatas. I have no doubt had he been in MY school back in the Philippines, he would have been popular. 

Whatever the case, he was definitely a kid who resented being "just another immigrant" to Canada. I guess he medicated with his fantasies and slight delusions of grandeur. Because there may not be outright racism here, but it is a serious step back in status - should you have had some status where you were from. And I know it's a little silly dwelling on status in a place as egalitarian as Canada, but it's a reality that a lot of immigrants do face. The adult immigrants often take a demotion in whatever profession they trained for, and the kids... well, they could undergo all sorts of things. From not being one of the cool and popular kids anymore, to being underestimated, to seeing your parents take on menial jobs, to even losing girlfriends and interested female admirers - if you're that kind of popular. It screws you up in ways big and small.

I never saw The Duke in my senior high - he must've gone elsewhere. Though I don't even know if he even took senior high. I think it was the last month of junior high: He fought the biggest and toughest jock in school - a white guy, in case you were wondering. He lost. After that, he never was the same. He rarely showed up at school. He practically disappeared. I never got to smoke pot in his basement again.

Years after I first met him, probably around 1999 or 1998, I rode on the same bus he was in. He was with a blonde girl, so I made no attempt to say 'hi'. We did make eye contact and he just made a confused face, probably also debating whether to say hi or not.


So how then does this relate to this "Existential Trip" of mine? Well, I certainly told this story to Cousin Marco, both in letters (snail mail!) back when I still wrote regularly as a new immigrant, as well as during this four month stay of mine in the Philippines, 2006-2007. And just as I said in another post:
"...thinking about this has awoken some other memories from when I was new. Memories which actually do matter in narrating this existential trip of mine. Because as more time passes by, the more I realize that there is another issue which needs to be elaborated on and its reasons aired out."
That issue is of course, being new to Canada. Why it felt so good to be there in the Philippines after a decade of absence is, in so many ways, directly related to how bad it was when I was just new here. Now that I've talked about it in another post, I just suddenly remembered this, The Duke's story.

I do sometimes wonder: What if it were all true? What if in fact he was part of the Philippine Elite? The top one percenters? The oligarchy? Maaaan... that's gotta suck having to move here. From being on top of the world back 'home' to being practically a nobody here, stuck smoking pot in your Mom's basement ranting to your newfound friend who never believed a word you said anyway, beat up by the top jock in junior high, all while your childhood fantasies of stardom - if you ever had a shot in the first place - melt away the longer you stay here. It was bad enough going from a perfectly average middle class Philippine childhood, to the bottom rung of this Canadian society, however egalitarian it may be. I can't imagine how terrible a dowgrade it would be to go from top dog, to a nobody.

Next Post: No Medals for Being a Modern-day Pioneer

Related Post: The All-Encompassing Rant about what it was like to be NEW to Canada

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home