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Discovering Pinoy-dentity in NY

After frequenting the likes of Jollibee and Red Ribbon along Roosevelt Avenue in Queens, New York, DominiK/Dominique finds that for Filipinos in these parts of the world, these places exemplify how a place can be more than just a place.

"One of the extremely rare times you'd see me with J," says Dom.

You’d rarely see me sitting pretty in any Jollibee branch.

No, I don’t have anything about its gustatory offerings. After all, spaghetti with sweetened sauce may not be the ideal way of preparing pasta in my books, but a mouthful does bring one (even if only in spirit) to some fiesta in some province in the Philippines, where tomato sauce is mixed with (GASP!) condensed milk. And heck, the chicken slices do tend to be juicier than the offerings of other fastfood joints (added with chili – one of my Dad’s must-haves – it becomes even more special).

It’s the crowd I’d say I fear.

Roosevelt Ave. in Queens has long been described as the "Taft Ave. of New York", complete with the noisy railway and the Filipino venues.

Roosevelt Ave. in Queens has long been described as the “Taft Ave. of New York”, complete with the noisy railway and the Filipino venues.

Visit Jollibee in Central in Hong Kong, for instance. There, all I can say to you is… GOOD LUCK! Good luck in being able to order because of the number of people there; good luck in finding a place to sit; good luck in being able to make decent conversation.

I never thought I was crowd-phobic. At least until I went there.

Suffice it to say, for a while, I avoided this chain. In the Philippines; or in places we traveled to overseas. If Jollibee-craving hit me (or us), take out or ordering became the options.

And then I got a glimpse of New York’s Pinoy community, seemingly flocking around – as moths to light (for the lack of a better analogy) – that area where Jollibee is (with Jollibee included, obviously), not too far from Woodside station in Queens.

For Filipinos in these parts of the world, this is an exemplification of how a place can be more than just a place.

This could bring out the best in those there, yes.

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My Tiya Mimay, for instance, hasn’t been back to the Philippines for a few years now. Visiting New York (from Philly) one time, she asked me to help her find pritong matambaka (fried big eyed scad) – something she said she’d been missing. Finding a Pinoy restaurant (one of the many along Roosevelt Ave., where Jollibee is) offering cuisines include Kapampangan, Ilocano, Cebuano, et cetera), she got that “experience of being back home,” as she put it. “Sweet memories of home from halfway across the world.”

House/room-hunting in New York? Forget Craigslist or Airbnb. Instead, head to the sari-sari stores, whose fronts have posts of houses/rooms for rent. Often, this is added with: Filipinos preferred. Yes, it’s regionalistic; but that it makes it easier for Pinoys can’t be denied.

And then there’s the family-centeredness of the Pinoy, highlighted by the ads to send stuff back home via cheap balikbayan boxes/packages. How can you knock $45 for a jumbo box?

The Filipinos of New York gather in Queens, where the likes of Jollibee and Red Ribbon are.

The Filipinos of New York gather in Queens, where the likes of Jollibee and Red Ribbon are.

But the gathering of crowds could bring out the worse in those there, too.  Some bad practices exist, obviously.

I’ve seen Bible-bashers gather in front of Jollibee, with their arms wrapped around their well-used Bibles, even as they gossip about some of their church members who supposedly did something bad. “Did you hear about that woman?” I overheard one of them say one Sunday afternoon, when they gathered there straight from some religious service. “She lives in sin; she shouldn’t be allowed to pray with us anymore.”

“That woman”, by the way, was my other Dad’s landlady (her place also in Woodside). And not that she’s a saint.

For one, she’s actually… racist. “Your friend is sleeping over? And she’s black?” she once told Dad. “I don’t like their kind.” Secondly, she’s an… opportunist. “Matututunan ko rin siyang mahalin (I’ll teach myself to love this guy),” she said of a suitor. “After all, he’ll help pay all my debts.” And thirdly, she’s… homophobic. “‘Yung mga tsismoso, bakla ang leader nila (The gossipmongers, they’re led by a faggot)!” she said – at least before she knew that Dad himself is gay.

And those hiding from people owed money? Dad recalled being repeatedly awakened by loud knocks, or by yells of Pinoys looking for other Pinoys to ask them to pay their debts. He was asked, too, to lie on behalf of some of these Pinoys; to tell them that the Pinoy they’re looking for isn’t there yet, even if the same is just hiding in some room or behind the door.

And then there’s the selling of everything not real – e.g. from fake jewelries to pirated DVDs/CDs… all while you are in between biting Chickenjoy. It (almost) feels like being somewhere in Manila…

All the same, though, with the good and the bad, NY never seemed more home-y…

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It’s been said that Chinatowns in various parts of the world exemplify the Chinese people’s pride in their culture; but Filipinos haven’t always been as… identifiable. That we tend to disappear where we go. That we are so good at denying our identity by blending in.

Many think this. I did, too.

But now, no more.

Maybe I just wasn’t looking too hard.

You still won’t see me as often in fastfood joints – vanity (not just health consciousness) prevents that from happening.

But now and then, you just may. As I try continuing discovering what makes us, well, what we are when in one…

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