Monday, May 15, 2006

Victimology's Reflection in a Fork and Spoon

VICTIMOLOGY is that pernicious mental illness that flares up among Filipinos of a certain ideological predisposition from time to time, in which the main symptoms are an irate defensiveness followed by vituperative rants full of national or cultural pride after discovering supposed instances of discrimination, aggression, or prejudice against Filipinos or "Filipino cultural identity" -- where there may be none at all...A closely related ailment, RACISM, was pandemic in North America for many centuries, and is far from being rendered extinct, though Negro manumission and the end of slavery in the 19th century struck mighty blows, as have the civil rights movement and ongoing struggles for human equality and liberty since then.

After publishing the editorial Pigs in Canada, a week ago Sunday, the staunch defender of Philippine Cultural Identity in a Multicultural World, Philippine Daily Inquirer today devotes an entire printed page, their Monday Talk of the Town series, as a kind of big character manifesto on a supposed world wide cause celebre among Filipinos. Hat Tip to Dom Cimafranca, the Village Idiot Savant who pointed these out and produces his own deliciously wicked reductio ad absurdum of the multiculturalist manifestae, of which there were three:

The first, Multiculturalism and the Filipino is the "straw-man" that pretends to lay out the "facts" of the case, which, like the editorial which spawned it, is completely one-sided, presenting only the mother's version of conversations and events as reported by one news source in Montreal. PDI left out this statement from the School Commission (PDF) that oversees the Ecole Lalande school...
To Students, Parents and Citizens, The Commission scolaire Marguerite-Bourgeoys – CSMB – is writing this letter in order to reinsure its 45,000 students, their parents, and all the citizens within its territory that the School Board fully respects the culture, the customs and the practices of all its constituents. In fact, the CSMB has representatives from no less than 197 different countries attending its 88 different schools.We are very proud of this diversity, which not only represents a source of awe, but also a challenge to ensure our harmonious cohabitation on a daily basis. The CSMB would also like to use this space to support the principal, the staff and the school team of Lalande primary school in Pierrefonds/ Roxboro, who have been overwhelmed in the last few weeks by the turmoil caused by the way an educational intervention involving a student during the noon lunch hour was handled. Both the staff and the principal of the school felt and feel that they have been directly challenged and are hurt by the comments and the intentions that have been imputed against them. The CSMB must also point out that the educational intervention in question was not aimed in any way at the practices of any cultural community. It was strictly limited to the way a child was consuming lunch on that particular day and had nothing to do with the way of eating or the utensils used. The CSMB has invited the parents of the pupil to enter a dialogue to clarify the facts, the misunderstandings and the interpretations. It has wishes to intervene thoughtfully and soberly on this issue. It must first and foremost be remembered that the disclosure of any information regarding the students that have been entrusted to its charge may constitute a breach of confidentiality. Its overriding concern is to preserve a respectful educational link with the child and openness to dialogue with the parents. We trust that this information will shed light on the issue and demonstrate to all our sincere concern.
I wonder why PDI did not mention any of this statement at all despite the fact that John Nery of on his Newsstand Blog links to it because he received it by email last Friday. Just like the editorial that kicked this all of at PDI, the Talk of the Town Series is written from a perspective that has not taken all the facts or versions of the matter into account.

Then there was this posting on a California Forum about a Filipino American who was so disturbed, probably by the PDI editorial that he simply picked up the phone and made a couple of phone calls to the Montreal newspaper and school and discovered what we may call the other side to this controversy...
seems that the 7 year old Filipino, Luc Cagadoc may have been stuffing his mouth full of food, dribbling it all over himself, making the other children laugh, and that the cause for his troubles with his lunch monitor had NOTHING TO DO with Philippine culinary cultural traits -- such eating with a fork and spoon.

Originally written by Veritas1911

I didn't sleep well last night. As a father of a second grade boy myself, it disturbed me to hear how that little boy was treated. On the surface at least, this appears to be a blatant disrespect to the Filipino community. So, this morning, I cleared my meetings to make a few phone calls.

First, I called the Commission Scolaire Marguerite Bourgeoy, school board for the Quebec area, to talk to Brigitte Gauvreau who is the spokesman for the CSMB. Second, I called Ecole Lalande primary school to talk to Normand Bergeron who is the principal of the school. Last, I called The Chronicle to talk with Andy Blatchford the reporter of the article. In all cases, I only got voice mail. I left my contact information and let all know that the Filipino community around the world is watching this with great interest.

So I get a phone call back from the CSMB school board and talked at great length with France Pilon, Vice Director General for the CSMB. I suspect the principal called the CSMB spokesman and the spokesman called her boss when I left voicemail messages. I spoke freely and candidly about my concerns of what appeared to many the suppression of Filipino ethnic and cultural practices not to mention my concerns around the poor handling of this issue by the educators of the school.

She assured me that the accounts that were written in the newspaper are grossly inaccurate. The use of the word "Pig" was never used by the principal (according to him) but admits she was not there. The disciplinary action of separation from other students did happen by the monitor but was a result of the boy's behavior not the use of utensils in our Filipino way. According to her, the boy was in a hurry and was stuffing food in his mouth. Food was getting all over him, the floor and other students who were watching and laughing. She was quick to point out that the boy has been in this school for three years and in that time not once was he ever disciplined for how he used his spoon and fork. She also points out that the school system comprises of anywhere between 50-60% immigrants representing at least 30 countries and that the system respects all cultures.

In Ms. Pilon's belief, communication is partly to be blamed as well. On one hand we have a heavy French-speaking community (most I spoke with spoke to me in French first and later with not the best English). And on the other hand they have a newspaper that wants to sell. The mother speaks very little French I was told as well.

At this point, without speaking to the principal and the reporter and even the mother, I don't have a complete picture. I do question the media and at the same time I think the Vice Director General has to defend her board. Regardless, I think we need to all keep on our guard when there's even a hint of ethnic or cultural suppression in my humble opinion and question it aggressively and to hold others accountable to at least explain themselves.

I've yet to get a phone call back from the newspaper or the school. If I do, I'll let you know.

If you'd like to call to make some "noise," here are a few key numbers.

France Pilon - CSMB Vice Director General - 514-855-4500
Normand Bergeron - Ecole Lalande Principal - 514-855-4238
Andy Blatchford - The Chronicle Reporter - 514-685-4690
Both this post from Veritas1911 and the School Board Memo represent part of the "other side" of this controversy which I think PDI has irresponsibly ignored. Both are still on the first page of Google results for "Pigs in Canada Filipino."

Instead the paper gives rein to a full cavalry and infantry charge on the Straw Man of Canadian Racial Discrimination Against Filipino Cultural Identity. The first is by Dr. Michael Tan, who presents a thoroughly charming disquisition, Spoon Wars, on the history of eating utensils, with lots of sophisticated and ironic remarks that are nonetheless immaterial and irrelevant if it turns out that this was not about cultural transgression at all, but a legitimate, if perhaps exasperated tenth attempt to control young Luc Cagadoc in the lunchroom (oink!) in the exercise of the principle of in loco parentis.

The second piece of ideological victimhood is by Ms. De los Angeles Bautista, Benefits of the Anti Bias Environment, a cheerless rant as droll and tendentious as its title. She says of the Luc Cagadoc lunchroom incident, things like, "But when there is danger of an assault, or there is an act of aggression or exploitation against a member of our tribe, activity in the reptilian, territorial, part of our brain is triggered and we rise up to staunchly defend our kind and our cultural integrity."

The rest of her rant, you can already guess, is a thorough, righteous and stentorian demolition of the strawman set up in the "news article" in the Talk of the Town series. In the following passage she scolds the Canadians as ignorant...
Luc was a victim of a two-punch knock-out: the disastrous combination of the lunch monitor’s ignorance about essential features of Filipino and Asian cultures and the monitor’s ignorance about child development and implications for developmentally appropriate adult- child interaction. His mother was a victim of the principal’s own cultural illiteracy (which I must add is not typical of Canadian educators) and his ineptness in dealing with parents both as competent adults and in ways that more fully engage them and show respect for them as necessary partners in children’s care and education.
Hmm...according to the memo from the School Board they've been successfully handling 45,000 students from 197 countries in their 88 schools, and they stand firmly behind Ecole Lalande as meeting their standards.

I wonder what experience Ms. Delos Angeles Bautista has in multicultural education as head of the "Learners Foundation" of the Philippines? How many nationalities, schools and students does she practice her expertise upon?

It seems to me that PDI has barked up the wrong tree again...just like with Art Bell. This time however, it seems the provocateur may be Luc's mother and her friend on the staff of the West Island Chronicle newspaper, a struggling English language paper in a French-dominated part of Canada.

Multiculturalism and assimilation are big, important issues all over the world. Trivializing them in this one sided way does not serve the readers of PDI.


manuelbuencamino said...

Very good points, DJB.

The whole thing is so ridiculous we might as well make fun of it.

So will somebody please tell the school to take away the spoons after serving the soup course so it does not confuse Pinoys?

It might also be a good idea for the school to write to the boy's parents and inform them that in countries where rice is not the staple, spoons are not sharp enough to cut through meat.

Rizalist said...

MB--The UP professoriat must get mighty tender meat for Dr. Tan to say he cuts his meat with a spoon! But I'm waiting for someone to stand up for eating with your bare hands which I think is actually more traditional among Filipinos. I think it is only the middle class and above that bears the fork and spoon cultural trait.

On a different point, a charge of racism usually brings out other accusers. If Ecole Lalande has racists in the their administration, soon enough we should hear from other parents and students ... for surely a true racist would have many more victims than single solitary Filipino, who on the video looks like he's actually enjoying the attention! He doesn't look predated upon by a racist ogre at all.



I think there was a misplaced sense of cultural identity being brandied about by everyone concerning this fork and spoon issue when I first read it in MLQ3's blog (didn't even react coz I thought it was a non-issue then.)

I only reacted following what I thought was a more complete piece by Ducky Paredes who published my comments in his column

I "attacked" the Canadian principal not because I felt he was being culturally biased, etc. against Filipinos at all - to me the issue of cultural bias was not the issue at all. The kid happened to be a Filipino and that was that!

My own comments were focused on the school principal's (Mr Bergeron's) lack of understanding vis-a-vis the use of spoon and fork at the same time as primo, a decent way to eat and secundo, it is not unusual for toddlers of all nationalities to use spoon and fork at all following his alleged statement, "Madam, you are in Canada and we do things differently in Canada!", a counter statement which I am inclined to believe Bergeron truly said to Luc's parents who, to defend their son, must have exclaimed, "But this is how we eat in the Philippines". Bergeron fell into the "cultural trap" stupidly.

I must admit it is irritating in the extreme when people take up cudgels for Pinoys overseas who brandish the bias baloney against their cultural identity as a kind of defence mechanism when they feel offended by a foreigner.

It reminds me of when Miriam's kid brother (yep, Lt Gen Benjamin Defensor, now Gloria's ambassador at large, etc.) had a run in with a poor flight attendant because he wasn't served the drink that he had asked for illico and after berating the poor girl said, "Do you think you can do that just because I'm a Filipino?"

When he told me this story, I felt like bashing him on the head but refrained from doing so and instead commented wrily, "The girl probably didn't like Chinks and thought you were a Chink!".

I've know Pinoys here who have reacted in the SAME fashion in Europe when they are not getting the attention they desire.

Why does every tom dick and harry of a Pinoy feels his Filipino heritage is insulted when some white fella (or gal) happens not to be servile to him, her right away? Is it inferiority complex or misplaced superiority complex?

Rizalist said...

Tell you what HB, if the PDI's version of the facts turns out to be substantially correct, even I would join them in lambasting the school principal and lunch monitor.

My beef with PDI is jumping to conclusions that this was a racist incident. If I were convinced it IS racist incident, as many have been by the narration of events, heck, lemme at the Redneck with my sharpened AXE!

It is a lot like the Art Bell case where someone has provoked an inter-Parcific tempest in a teapot knowing EXACTLY how to do it.

Why should we find or make enemies where there may be none.

I mean, do we really have a problem with racism and discrimination against Filipinos in Canada? Maybe Saudi Arabia, France or Indonesia, but Canada?



Perhaps off topic...On the subject or racism.

I am convinced exists everywhere even in the Philippines - Filipinos are not excluded among racially discriminating people.

Racism, a fact of life, does not only mean discriminating against colored people, blacks, browns, etc. but I racism can be against whites too. Whites are confronted by it in Europe and in the US by non-whites.

It would be bigotry not to admit it doesn't exist in the Philippines too. (Some of the most cerrado catolicos I know in Pinas are the most discriminating against blacks believing Blacks are not only ugly but that they are also sub-human!)



Funnily enough, I don't think it really occured to Bergeron to be racist when he uttered those words... I am more inclined to believe that PDI is helping turn the issue into a racism issue.

I believe the principal may be attacked for his being parochial but not for being racist at that particular instance. Obviously, this whole circusd may start to make him re-think his stand on the multi-cultural diversity of Canada. Hehe! Thanks to the PDI and to the parents of Luc...

Dominique said...

Thanks very much for the link, Dean. I had fun writing it.

HillBlogger: I wrote an essay on the Psychology of our Outrage, basically my reflections on the reaction.


Hi Dominique,

Just came out of your blog and left a comment.

Your essay is an excellent read!



Re: "I mean, do we really have a problem with racism and discrimination against Filipinos in Canada? Maybe Saudi Arabia, France or Indonesia, but Canada?"

I don't think so - and can't believe there's racism against Pinoys in France either, otherwise with the number of illegal Pinoys out here (80% estimate by the federation of Fil communities here), they would have been the first to go, kicked out, deported, sent back to Pinas, etc. If there's ever any ethnic minority here that's appreciated by the French, it's the Pinoys! Perhaps, because they have no problem with them, being Christians that most of them are.

So, it will be thoroughly unjust to say that the French are racist against Filipinos.

However, you failed to mention that Malaysia in your list of being some of the most xenophobic and racist people against Pinoys. And they are the guys that Gloria is about to cede Mindanao to!

baycas said...

Saturday, May 13, 2006
posted by mcoy at 11:03PM

still hung up on luc cagadoc

so here's how i think the story will end:

the wearied cagadocs retire from the media spotlight by moving to singapore, where years later luc is jailed for spitting. his mother decries the arrest, protesting that spitting in public is a filipino tradition.

but before that, a movie adaptation is made of luc's earlier canadian adventures, with nora aunor playing his mother. her big line?

"my son -- is not -- a pig!"


look at how Filipino kids eat...their rice is almost always soaked with the soup of the day...all the better to scoop it with a spoon even without pushing with a fork.


Hi Dean,

Guess what?

Belinda Olivares Cunanan's column today is all about the cyberworld's reaction to her claim of 9 million hits for Sigaw April column.

And guess what again?

She lifted the comment I posted in Manuel Quezon's blog ridiculing her claim. She writes, “Since then there has been a lot of passionate debate in cyberspace. The non-believers dismiss Lambino’s claim as “so obviously made-up” or outright propaganda; someone even suspects that Luli Arroyo’s “Internet brigades are working full time, round the clock, to make the hits. If Gloria could produce a million-vote edge by instructing one official on the phone, wouldn’t it be easier to produce 8 million Internet hits by hundreds of clicking fingers paid to do that?” he queried.”

Well, poor Belinda! She’s wrong again… Can you spot the error in her spiel?


Anyway, here's the link - might just amuse you...

Rizalist said...

I checked that link out HB. couldn't stop giggling and grimacing though. But it's a good sign that the blogosphere is forcing the MSM to pay attention. They know we are hitting them where it hurts: in the thinking muscles of all those onliners.

Keep up the good work. Let's crank it up!!

Amadeo said...

“I wonder what experience Ms. Delos Angeles Bautista has in multicultural education as head of the "Learners Foundation" of the Philippines? How many nationalities, schools and students does she practice her expertise upon?”

Probably not sufficiently enough, or maybe essentially experiences accumulated vicariously. Since the best she could give for her illustration of the US experience was this:

“In the United States, it has often been said that as migrants, Filipinos generally tend to assimilate and adapt easily to American culture and do not stand out as visibly and distinctly as the other Asian cultural groups. It has been observed that we prefer to blend in to the point of dissociating ourselves from Filipino culture altogether.”

As further education, I would suggest her taking some leisurely but attentive strolls along some streets and public places in Daly City CA and report on how well assimilated or not our compatriots are to mainstream society.

Rizalist said...

Ah yes, ... Daly City ... where even the non Pinoy homes smel like adobo on a summer evening ... and they love it!

Anonymous said...

THe Montreal Chronicle ( noArticle=6063) , the paper that broke the Luc Cagado spoon and fork story is the top local paper in West Island, a predominantly Anglophone section of the city of Montreal where a large concentration of English speaking, mostly immigrant population live. The anti-French sentiment in this part of town is a bit stronger than most places in Quebec. The Toronto Star's Quebec bureau reported it quite differently , that the boy was reprimanded for " disruptive behaviour, not slovenly eating". To many people it was quite unclear, if not incredulous, that the mere use of spoon and fork can cause one to be punished, especially for a 7 year old boy! It is for this very reason that the news didn't get much attention in Canada.

Rizalist said...

Thanks for the info BW...and Welcome to Philippine Commentary.

mlq3 said...

As the editor of that page and author of the introduction, I'd just like to point out:

1. I thought the introduction was succinct enough. The incident is a cause celebre. What has been bandied about is clearly attributed as the mother's version -and the school's simpler and more direct still: problems with a difficult child.

2. That it is a cause celebre -that's what's interesting. And what the whole fuss should really bring to mind, is the role our habits play in places where the locals don't share our habits.

As for Tan and Bautista, their opinions are their own, and it's up to the reader to agree or disagree. Personally, Bautista made a crucial point that's larger than about forks, spoons, or principals in Canada or the Philippines. For example, her criticism of Philippine schools that discriminate against the children of single parents.

The "Talk of the Town" is precisely about that -what's the talk of the town, tackled in a manner that hopefully serves either to inform or provoke further thought. In the case of the messy child, a n anthropologist's and educator's opinions are certainly helpful.

Rizalist said...

Hi Manolo! You're out slumming tonight. hehe. You're right: the interesting point is why it's become such a cause celebre, at least with some people. I think that no matter what the facts eventually turn out to be, the same mechanism is at play which we saw in the Art Bell incident. The reason I say that is most people don't actually have all the facts at their disposal, yet too many have already concluded that this is a racist incident. That's a tip off of a defensive reaction: the white guy is guilty of the brown ma's accusation unless proven innocent.

It is provoked and stoked by people with an ideological bent for this sort of thing. Even the thoughtful aspects of Bautista's essay are ignored by those who read only the Pigs in Canada editorial and ran with it. Stuff like in loco parentis and the problems of assimilation.