I left my heart in. . . the US of A

Texas Tech University, Lubbock, Texas, March 2018

It was quite unexpected. I fell in love with the U.S. of A.

It was totally out of character for a self-confessed nationalist, History teacher who believed with all her heart that her destiny was entwined with that of the nation’s.

Texas Tech University Stadium, Lubbock, Texas, March 2018

Maybe it was the cool, crisp air of Texas that bit my nose and my face while I was walking wearing two jackets. One could get used to the sun-and-7-degrees-Celsius combination. It was like walking around a centralized air-conditioned outdoors.

National Ranching Center
National Ranching Heritage Center, Lubbock, Texas, March 2018

It was a 10-day trip including travel time so it was quite a short one. “Bitin” (lacking) as Filipinos would call it.

One thing that struck me in Lubbock, Texas and in California was the discipline of the drivers, motorists and pedestrians. Everyone seemed to give way to each other out of courtesy. It is quite the opposite here in the Philippines where everyone is always raring to go, everyone wants a piece of the road and NOBODY WANTS TO GIVE WAY.

National Ranching Heritage Center, Lubbock, Texas, March 2018

A nation’s culture is reflected in the citizens’ driving. It is quite a trivial standard of measure to use but true. I thought about how they drove there and thought to myself if the way we drive translated to economic success as a culture and society, reflected in social relationships, and courtesy (or the lack of it) in how we treat each other.

Getty Museum, Los Angeles, California, April 2018

The days after the trip was challenging. I could not commute without getting mad at the drivers here. You see the stark contrast between two cultures.

It brought to mind what Jose Rizal wrote about comparing Manila and Spain during his travels as the historian Benedict Anderson wrote in his book, The Specter of Comparisons. Rizal called it “demonio des comparaciones”. For the foremost ilustrado, he could no longer see Spain without seeing Manila and the opposite holds true.

Henri Matisse’s “La Gerbe/The Sheaf” at the LACMA (Los Angeles County Museum of Art)

Yes, three weeks after my trip, I am still haunted by this specter of comparisons.

I miss the cold-but-sunny weather, the road discipline, the courtesy in which strangers treated each other and most of all, the food in the U.S.

Someday, I will be back.

Getty Museum, Los Angeles, California, April 2018



Buhay* Academe

*Buhay = means Life

I should be finishing a historical essay that an older academic suggested I read for my paper.  Instead, here I am typing away this blog post.  Procrastinating.  I see this as sticking to my promise to write every day.

There are still days when my mind still goes back to my short trip to the United States for a conference.  It was a quick ten-day trip (including travel).  It left me wanting for more and longing to go back to see more of the sights in California, visit more museums and a public library or two.  Alas, that will have to be for another trip.


Tonight got me thinking about the things one gives up to accomplish something that she wants.  Passion makes us do crazy things. Just look at couples who are “in love” or people who were “crazy” enough to pursue their dreams no matter how impossible it looked at first.

I have been in both situations.  I have fallen in love crazily, passionately.  Today, I belong to the second group:  crazy enough to chase the seemingly impossible dream.  To me, it looks crazy since I think it is beyond me, beyond my capabilities.  But the thing is when you are passionate about something, it wakes you up, it moves you to do things you normally would not have done.  It gives you the strength to say “no” to things so that your time, effort and money are channeled into this passion of yours.

What moves you?  My passion is anything History or historical.  To put it differently, I love all things History.  Seeing historical books makes me excited, energetic and brimming with ideas.  My mind is full of ideas for projects and papers.  What I lack is time to do all these stuff.  And so I am learning to live in the present, to focus on one thing at a time and be 100% present while doing so.

This semester, I decided to give up teaching and take a break from my MA classes.  I am focusing my energies on working on a paper for a migration conference this June.  It will be held at the University of Lisbon in Portugal.  Literally, I breathe and wake up with the topic in mind.  It is the last thing I think about before going to sleep and the first thing I think about when I open my eyes in the morning.  In my mental to-do list, I still have a lot of journal articles and books to finish reading.  I have less than 10 weeks to finish writing the paper.

One professor from a state university here asked me how I got into this international conference circuit.  I told her I just submitted my abstracts to several calls for papers.  To my surprise, they got accepted so here I am working on them.  After this round, I have resolved that I will only submit abstracts when I am fully done with a draft or a paper as a friend who is an academic told me.  She told me last weekend, “Yen, you’re gutsy.  I only send the abstracts of finished papers.”  One lesson learned for me there.

Buhay academe for me these days means long nights, less social life (or really nil), busy weekends but oh the joy and the happiness is worth it.  Maybe I am just a geek or, perhaps, a masochist.  I feel happy when I am pressured.

But really, when one loves what she is doing, working beyond 5pm is not overtime or stressful.  Now that, my friends, is passion.


Taken last March 2018 during my trip to Lubbock, Texas for an interdisciplinary conference on food studies at Texas Tech University





Learning vulnerability

I hate the feeling of being vulnerable.  It is not something I welcome especially when it comes to sharing my work and my thoughts “out there”.  I prefer to keep my thoughts to myself, only sharing them with people I feel safe and comfortable with.  But working on this paper on the Chinese Mestizos in Cebu City for a conference in Portugal this June has taught me that you cannot get feedback and constructive criticism if you “DO NOT PUT YOURSELF OUT THERE.”


There is an element of risk and courage when asking for help from older academics especially when they are already practicing historians.  For the past two weeks, I have taken the risk to e-mail and communicate with four scholars (people who have worked on either the Chinese mestizos topic and Cebuano history) and, to my surprise, they replied.

They not only replied, they gave comments, insights and, more importantly, ASKED some important questions that have allowed me to think deeply and see a broader perspective of my paper.  One even bluntly told me that I need to read MORE literature on the topic.

Thank you, sir.  That was one of the most helpful, important advice I got this week.

Two important lessons I have learned from this exercise of writing-to-older-academics is to be humble, to admit when one does not know something and to learn how to ask for help.

Somehow this trait of asking for help, wisdom or insight reminds me of Christ’s words when he said in the Bible, “ask, seek and knock.”

As in the Kingdom and in the academe, you do not get what you do not ask for.

Quite a simple lesson but one I am still learning to do these days.

It is a privilege to be learning from these older historians.  In a matter of two weeks, I have learned so much from a few e-mails more than what I have learned from reading lots of journal articles in the last two months.  Their questions and feedback gave me perspective, a clearer path to take and that much-needed push and pressure.

Teaching in the 21st century

Last year I was asked to share some of my thoughts on teaching millennial learners in a student congress.  Looking back, I realized that I had dwelt too much on making use of technology, reaching out to them through their learning styles and preferences.  But if I had a chance to give that talk again I’d think I would focus more on “life-focused stuff and relational stuff” instead of the academic stuff.

Something happened in the classroom today that reminded me that, as a teacher, as much as I emphasize excellence and hard work in the classroom, it is also equally important to teach and model to students “how to fail”, how to deal with failure and mistakes and modeling forgiveness and grace. Are we hard on ourselves and others when we and they commit mistakes? How do we deal with mistakes in the classroom that teaches students how to deal with it in real life?”

If I were to revise my talk on Millennial learners, I’d add humility and a willingness to learn from others; having integrity; having the initiative and resourcefulness to find knowledge and truth instead of relying on news without verifying it first.

I would tell them that more than the lesson plans, strategies and techniques, that teaching is love, servanthood and kindness towards our learners.  For when we love, we want the best for our students and will find ways to make learning accessible and easy for them to understand.

I guess teaching isn’t as hard as rocket science but not exactly the easiest thing to do.  For loving another person also means laying down one’s self and rights for another — just like how Jesus did it.

I still have a long way and a lot of lessons to learn about teaching.


Photo by Ken Suarez (Moalboal) — Taken from the Unsplash website


Can a social scientist remain objective especially in our time today?

Two Saturdays ago, a professor of mine (in my Historical Methods class), gave us an article each to read and review.  I was amused to find that Leloy (Lissandro) Claudio’s article on “Postcolonial Fissures” was not given to me.  “Ahhh, oh I have that article.  Sayang, ma’am ___, siya jud diay to sa Manila Hotel.  I should have my pic taken with him.”  😀  She told me, “Mao na ang reason I did not give the article to you” with a smile.

Ah yes, objectivity can be a challenge when reading an article written by someone I look up to and admire.  That brings me to the thought:  “Can one be truly objective?”  How we write, what we write about and how we hypothesize always manage to color our thinking and theorizing.

I remember that incident as I reread my review of Claudio’s Rappler article “The Moralist Thinker in Digong’s Time” and I finally understood what my professor meant. Hah! The review I submitted was very “emotionally close” and emotional.  It was half intellectual and half emotional. I saw how wise it was of her to give me the postmodern article written by Dr. Hornedo.

It’s something I am looking forward to reading since I still am kind of ambivalent towards postmodernism and history given my training and background from Diliman.  I was taught and trained by professors who were allergic to the postmodern framework.  But then studying in USC has opened my eyes to different theories and perspectives that I am not familiar with since the department in Diliman, during my time,  was not so open to postmodern theory.   I remember a professor of mine who would smirk every time Foucault’s name was mentioned.

As a History major, I was hesitant to dabble in and explore other theories like postmodernism and Historicism but today I learned that part of growing up as an academic is to look at the unknown, unlearned and the unexplored.

I see it as like a child who wants to explore what her parents warned her about but were not really sure it was scientifically grounded or had basis backed up by research.

I have that feeling today.  Poised at flight, wanting to plumb the depths and horizons I was told not to step foot on because it was against tradition.

Let’s see where I land after this.


Teaching in a digital age

Photo by Daria Nepriakhina  {https://unsplash.com/photos/pZA4eNKBz20}

Seventeen years ago when I first started teaching, I had to lug around heavy, hard-bound books filled with colored pictures of pre-Hispanic Philippine society just so my students in my Philippine history classes could imagine how our ancestors, our economy, and our everyday life looked like. It was cumbersome, inconvenient and quite heavy to be carrying books up and down the Talamban campus of USC.

This semester, I have the privilege to teach Philippine history and the Rizal course again and after two weeks have passed since the semester started I still cannot shake off that feeling of awe that I still get when I am faced with the vast number of resources in front of me.  At a click of the mouse, I can now download a PDF copy of the original Boxer Codex in script form and a translation from a digital book website which I often use for my Masters’ class reading requirements. 

Gone are the days when one would have to go to the library, spending hours in the archive culling for primary sources like news articles, diary entries and historical maps to show in class.  In a second, we can find them through OpenLibrary, JSTOR, Internet Archive, Project Gutenberg or even from the digital archive of The New York Times to name a few websites.

I still can’t get over it.  Sources — especially the eyewitness accounts aka primary — are among the important lifeblood resources of historians and history students like me.

In a span of eight months, I have downloaded over two to three hundred electronic books and journal articles from three websites that have been very helpful to my life as a graduate student and as a researcher.

If you need the addresses of these websites, shoot me an email at teacheryen.wp@gmail.com.

Given the number of websites available today, there is definitely no reason why a teacher in this time and age can’t come up with a visual presentation or lesson.

Everything is on the web.

What do we teach our students then when information is already at their fingertips?

And that is when the role of a teacher as a guide comes in.  In an age where information is a dime a dozen and easy to download, it is important that we teach students to sift and swim ably through the pieces of information floating around like chunks from an iceberg.

Teachers need to teach their classes how to verify facts, separate the grain from the chaff especially in an era where fake news abounds.

We must teach them to be critical and to know what information to look for, where to find them, how to distinguish truth from lies or half-truths and come up with a logical argument out from their research and analysis of facts and evidence.

That said, the ubiquity of the internet does not diminish the importance of teachers rather, it highlights the teacher’s role.

It is crucial today that we teach skills like critical thinking, making judgments and conclusions, verifying information and producing new knowledge.  Young people must be taught to analyze and synthesize knowledge instead of merely spewing and mouthing what they have read from a website.

One important thing that ties all these skills together is for us to teach students how to apply the facts and knowledge they get from the web, from the people around them and from school.

They must be taught how to use this information to continually develop society and create technology that improves other people’s lives without compromising truth and social justice.

That, my friends, is where our greater challenge as teachers lie.