Tuesday, November 27, 2012


Oscar Peñaranda (SECOND FROM RIGHT) with kids Aram, Beau, and Desiree, with (FRONT) Francisca Rivero Peñaranda and Joelle Peñaranda
Vim Nadera: How do you teach history to Filipino Americans? Or deal with biases?
Oscar Peñaranda: First you have to ask why take history? What’s good in studying history? Dealing with bias is a very good point you make. Dealing with bias must be one of the purposes of education: how to detect bias. The discussions of bias and education must always enter into a discussion of history sooner or later. True, education must also be both a mirror and a window. A window to see others and a mirror to see oneself. Must be both. And the ethnic studies classes? Only the ethnic studies classes provide that mirror. For the Filipino American, the history of Filipinos in America (U.S. and Canada) are their stories and the stories of their parents and grandparents who came and dwelt in the belly of the beast or the land of milk and honey or somewhere in between.

VN: What made you think of dealing or discussing the Filipino Heritage Studies and Filipino in your curriculum, syllabus or module?
OP: In the high schools, the teaching of Filipino as a foreign language is very new, or was about 15 years ago. But I always questioned why Filipino was never considered as foreign language by secondary schools. Even the colleges had very very few (and still do) Filipino language classes. I found that the students learn language well when that language has relevance and content, especially in their everyday lives. Well, their everyday lives were that they were Filipino. And I incorporated literature and history in the teaching of Filipino in the high schools. But then I also wanted the students (by the way, not just the Filipino students but also the non-Filipino students) to learn the culture, the history, the literature, and the values of the Filipinos in the Philippines, indigenous and pre-Spanish, and the study of Filipinos who have come to immigrate here in the U.S. and Canada. In short, the history of Filipinos in the U.S. as well as the history of Filipinos in the Philippines. For instance, the youths of San Jose, California has hit the nail on the head concerning this journey or path to their self-discovery with a phrase they coined and a conference has been built around this phrase or slogan: “KNOW HISTORY, KNOW SELF. NO HISTORY, NO SELF.”

VN: How Filipino are your kids?
OP: I have four children, three – Beau Rhet Florentino, Desiree Pololena, and Aram Kaleo -- from my first wife, Gail Ige, of about 15 years and one daughter from my recent wife, Marialuisa Escalambre, of 27 years. I was very young, barely 22 then, when Beau was born, followed 15 months later with Desiree, then eight years later with Aram. I have taken all my children to the Philippines. Desiree and Aram have been to Barugo. My daughter, with my present wife, also has been to Barugo. Only my first born Beau, also a writer and a website maker, has not been to Barugo. But in December of 2013, they all are coming again and Beau this time will visit Barugo. They are all very excited and looking forward to it, I think. They will have a tree-planting ceremony, because my grandfather (Florentino the first) was fond of planting trees in that town. Until today the tree he planted still populate the towns and nearby areas. He fought the U.S. Americans in the Philippine-U.S. war that began in 1899. He was arguably the last of Aguinaldo's officer to surrender. He’s a colonel. All the generals had been killed or caught or surrendered. June 19, his 25th birthday, (or was it June 18?) 1902, a year and a some months after Aguinaldo was captured. By the way, Beau is now the senior computer expert at Levi-Strauss Co. In Las Vegas, Desiree works in a casino, and Aram with a partner owns three pharmacies in San Diego, California. And Milena, my youngest, just graduated with her Liberal Arts degree aspiring to be an elementary teacher. None of them speak any Filipino language but they can understand in different degrees of understanding. Each one has his or her memories of being here. Being the oldest, I think, Beau remembers the most. All of them always say that they are Filipinos.

VN: Among your works anthologized, what is your favorite? Why?
I have too many that I like to name one or two. I think that job is for the reader not so much the writer.

VN: Kindly give us a background on your books: Full Deck (Jokers Playing) (2004) andSeasons by the Bay (2004).
OP: Seasons by the Bay is a "novel in stories" or one could look at it that way. It is a collection of stories set mostly in five bays: Carigara Bay, Manila Bay, English Bay in Vancouver, Canada, San Francisco Bay, and Bristol Bay in Alaska. Chronologically, the characters get older as the stories come. Full Deck, Jokers Playing is a collection of poems. Without counting, how many poems do you think are in this collection?

VN: How long will you be here in the Philippines?
OP: I’m here to get some films made by Filipino filmmakers. I’ve been to Cebu, Bohol, and Dumaguete. Got hold of a film made by a New Yorker, Joseph Nobile, whose film, Closer To Home, should also be considered for theSanta Rosa International Film Festival this September. I’ve been very busy but enjoying. People ask me why I would like to stay longer in the Philippines more than just a balikbayan visit. I’d like to perhaps do something more substantial, contemplating retirement here. Besides the longer stretch of the dollar here in the Philippines, I have some motivation and purpose. For 50 years, half a century, I have given my services and talents to a foreign land -- the U.S.A. Now I think it is time with my remaining productive years to give service to the land and people who bore and nurtured and developed and made much of whatever good there is of myself. It is time I give back big time, whether (maybe) in teaching Filipino American heritage classes, working with the ministers or secretaries of culture (and culture bearers themselves) in the Philippines, establishing relations in sister cities, in education and culture, and be a sort of a bridge between the U.S. and the Philippines.

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