Carren's Pitch

Life by Design


Drawing Lines

I didn't expect this to be published, but it just goes to show how life can surprise you.

The idea for the article obviously came from the artist lecture I attended, but also from the artwork below.
It just once again proves to me how art does make a difference - in the way people think and live.

Youngblood, Philippine Daily Inquirer
published October 23, 2008

In an interview I had with her during her Artist Lecture at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh recently, Filipina artist Stephanie Syjuco explained that one of her works was her way of pointing out “how much we fictionalize our own allegiances.” That got me thinking about all the lines we draw, the lines that delineate, separate and ultimately disconnect.

There are the lines that separate one country from another — squiggly drawings on a map, such as those on the Spratly Islands (contested by China, Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and the Philippines), Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Nagorno-Karabakh (contested by various countries of the former Soviet Union), and the biblical West Bank (contested by Israel and Palestine). Such lines are drawn differently, depending on whose map you view.

There are lines we make to identify one city from another: This is San Juan, this is Muntinlupa. One can almost make prejudgments based on territory.

There are lines to distinguish one culture from another. He is Chinese. He is American. He is Filipino. Connotations arise from the labels we collect haphazardly throughout our lives, making it easy for others to weigh our worth.

In a world of increasing complexity, lines enforce an order that society sorely needs. Yet, it is easy to forget that lines are manufactured. One should accept the presence of the line, but prepare to look beyond it. As we move to an age of technology, identities are built in new ways: user-defined profile pictures, avatars, online public profiles. Cultural earmarks gradually disappear as the world shares similar codes and experiences. One idea can transverse the world and ensconce itself in another’s social collective conscious. From there, the idea is appropriated — used for personal purposes — added on to, but still retains its essential characteristics. Who then owns the idea? Anyone? No one?

Right now, I live in a house full of lines, with housemates who are Chinese, Filipino, American, Venezuelan. We often label some cultural idiosyncrasies: “How Asian — to always cook rice!” “Americans love grills.” As if rice were only for Asians and grills were only for Americans.

One Saturday night, empanada was on the menu, and the line was soon redrawn. Like its Filipino sister, the empanada was made of fillings folded into a half-moon shaped wrap. Unlike its sweet baked Filipino counterpart, the Venezuelan empanada was deep fried and salty. Which one was the real empanada? Both? Neither one of them?

The real empanada came from Spain, conqueror of both Venezuela and the Philippines. From the Spaniards, we learned to stuff our pastry with fillings to sustain us for a day’s work. What was once a local fare has become a global delicacy.

The lines we draw to separate ourselves from others are the same lines that bar us from one another. There can be no escaping these lines, but perhaps we should learn to look beyond them to finally see that there really is no line after all, just one human race.

Art published with the permission of: Joshua Bradley


Anonymous said...

Hi Carren! It's Jo Anne, Chinkin's fiancee. I've been enjoying your articles, thank you for posting them online. :) I was actually wondering if you can point me to where I can submit articles for the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Youngblood or for their Opinion section. I've poked around their web site, but haven't had any success with it. Thank you! :)

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