Tuesday, August 30, 2011

On Detroit.

Detroit is like a man that just finished through a mid-life crisis. He still stands but the ego slightly bruised. This city reminds me of a lot of LA, minus the people and traffic.

Did you know that Detroit used to be one of those big cities? Amongst the names of New York, Los Angeles, Boston, Chicago.. Detroit would be listed as one of the big cities in the Nation. Not just during the building of the car industry (which was an amazing feat, true-blue America work ethics found in each vehicle) but more importantly, during the WWII when the demand for creating weaponry was vital to not only ourselves but our allies. Detroit was a worthy investment. Historically, Detroit was also a prime spot during the Underground Railroad and the mecca during the Motown era. The unfortunate thing, I think, that happened with Detroit was that after that demand of weapons was no longer needed, cars were supposed to be "their" thing. But the cars that were being built on our soil were no longer in competition to those overseas. Would you choose a Ford or a Chevy over a cool, status-stating BMW or Mercedes? How can you beat the cost of a Toyota or Honda that is practical and affordable, even as an import to our nation?

Detroit's population, despite the fact that it's lost much of its population, still ranks in the Top 20 by population in the United States. Surprisingly, beating Boston that ranks at twenty-two. The one thing I like about Detroit, grant it it's not been that long, is the people. I forget that although we are in Detroit, I am still in Michigan. Not New York. Not Boston. Not Los Angeles but Detroit. People are humble. Maybe it is because what once was a big city, a place where millions could proudly state as their home, eventually whittled down to just another midwest town. Detroit used to stand out, but now with less than 25% of its population in the past 10 years, it stands with less vigor. In an article, it states that most of its population moved out because of lack of academic fundamentals and neighborhood safety, but now the question is, what can they do to turn it around? Could they? What are their options?

Detroit has so much potential, so much space. In that same article, you can fit Boston, NYC, and San Francisco into the Detroit borders. As I walk through the city, I see only empty space for blocks, then a Subway or hospital among this huge lot. People say that Detroit may be the next Williamsburg but even then, Williamsburg' not only about young artists who bought space at real cheap. There are other communities supporting its city. But what about Detroit? Is it time to now accept that where it is now is permanent? I would hate to think so. We'll see, I give it another 5 years. It'll be a shame to see this go, it's good space, a very generous community. A place I would be proud to call as home.

One thing before I go. I have a few words about the Black community. I spoke with a man while I was there. He's a 28ish year old black male, works as the doorman/security here at the Park Shelton, and writes on the side. He's actually completing his first book and told me that he reads about 6-7 books a month or wait, a week. He was completing FAFSA applications and thinking about returning to school for Business. Well, anyways, he tried to explain to me the communities in Detroit in contrast to the gang-related culture in Los Angeles. There's no beating-up rituals or gang rivalries among groups and even though, to an extent, these communities can be territorial. It's more that if you live on a street, the boundaries for that group or community extends to that. You may not know everyone in the group but if you are within that particular neighborhood boundary, you are part of this community by association.

If there are 'tifs' with among groups, they are often personal, involving two people, and exist for a reason. He told me, if you hear about a shooting, it's often between two people who know each other, had a misunderstanding or disagreement, and knew something inevitable was going to go down. Rarely, he said, are there shootings without intention or drive-bys where a number of innocent people are targeted and typically, they are drug-related. He added, "When have you seen a paper and read that it was a white person that was shot? Barely ever. Yet, white people are the most scared to move here because of violence. Look, if you are not involved, you not in danger. Just because the population is primarily black, it doesn't mean that the city is dangerous. People and their assumptions. Ignorant."

One thing, for sure, from my perspective of course. Black people* are not all created equal. Black people in Detroit are different from black people in Los Angeles, Brooklyn, Boston.. from what I know and probably also, Chicago or down South. This doesn't mean that there aren't similarities nationally. Where our roots come from are important but our immediate city also speaks volumes to who we are. Where we live or lived, changes us. The cities I've lived in, changed me. We become part of our city just as much as we are our race, our ethnicity, our nationality. Overall, the city and people of Detroit impress me. I hope one day, I can add Detroit as a part of my repertoire.

* I extend this generalization to most ethnicities and racial groups. You can replace Black/African-American with Asian, Latino, and other people of color. There are a bunch of Asians all over, and Asian people from San Diego are definitely different to those in New York City.

Article stated above:

Friday, August 26, 2011

On the East Coast, West Coast thang

.. particularly the Los Angeles, New York comparison.

Being born and raised on the West Coast, now living in the East Coast has made me appreciate a number of things on both coasts. Yet amongst this expansiveness of what I can call home, there are some notable differences of these two coasts besides the few 3,000 miles that separates them. 

I just visited home (near Los Angeles, CA) and realized how blatant the differences that exist between this and its East Coast counterpart. The first thing that shocked me was the shallowness of LA. 

[Disclaimer: Now, I know this may offend a number of my friends from back home. I can tell you "It's not you, it's them" but I know, you know, that there lies some truth behind my completely biased generalization of a good portion of the LA community. Nonetheless, if this blog bugs you so much, you are always able to just stop reading this entry. So, as I was saying...]

People care much about their appearance here, and I know that's true for any place really, including the East Coast but there is a very 'Hollywood' nature that lies even in the clothes. Lots of the "style" here are just carbon-copies of celebrity/reality start outfits. And, even the style associated with stepping outside the box, has a particular look that is predictable. You know, the "I'm-so-artsie-looks-like-Anthropologie-or-Urban-Outfitters-but-can't-really-afford-that-shit-so-here-is-something-cheaper-but-still-looks-really-really-cool" types. I know you know who I'm talking about, c'mon admit it. What looks like creativity, really is a lack of genuine-ity.

In New York, by contrast, creativity effuse everywhere and anywhere while at the same time this openness to the different. Judgment isn't the initial reaction. I don't know if it's just desensitization to the crazy, but I want to believe it is this openess of individuality that is, if not accepted, at least acknowledged.

For example, what I could wear in New York to be considered 'different' would be considered 'foolish' or 'stupid' in LA. There lies a depth that may not always come in a cute bow but in its most unrefined form, honest. 

Since I was young visiting my cousins in New York, I always yearned to live one day in The City. I, of course, in my very naive stature did not realize that to live in New York City  requires money and tons of it. So, although I may not have been able to attend many ballet performances at the MET or eat every night at a different restaurant, I did get to learn the nature of the people and memorize subway maps like the back of my hand. 

The one thing I always appreciated about New York was its authenticity. People mention that, if you can live in New York City, you can live every where. This is entirely true. There is this roughness, fast-pace attitude that when you leave that door in the morning to enter the streets of NYC, you are on. You and your agenda, out there in the city. Sometimes, your ass gets kicked. Sometimes, it doesn't. 

I realize that this is a lot coming from only a year living in New York but I've always felt it was part of me even before my actual move. I felt as if NYC was my lost family, like the adopted child that got to meet his biological parents for the first time. I felt at home, and the people (with all of its roughness) was one of the most honest experiences I've felt for a very, very long time. 

In the end, my opinion is this: the main contributing reason why these worlds are so different is because of the geography of the cities. West Coast, particularly LA or San Diego, have a very generous amount of space. Driving is vital to your existence and productivity, which sometimes deters you from the communal activity of walking in the streets doing errands that the East Coast peeps experience

The contrast with the East Coast is that it is so congested with people in such a finite space. For example Manhattan and its surrounding burroughts have about milions and millions of inhabitants (not counting the other milion that visit and tour throughout the year) and because of it, are pushed to be highly competitive peope with one another. They know that if they let their gaurd for even a second, there will be another person in line to snatch it from them. In places like San Diego, you know that the world is competitive. But you also don't get to see it as often unless you are in the right circles. You don't necessarily see the opportunities in front of you taken away, mainly because how can you see it when your world is often viewed from a car or internet media. In New York, your world is right outside your window. You can hear it, working day and night. You know, that when you are not working, someone else is.

The weather has to do a little something about it, too. Weather that is always 75 degrees, with no snow brings about very content people. Although, I find that contentment can sometimes develop into complacency. In the East Coast, when you know that by November, you will not have the same mobility or access to certain things, you work like ants when the weather is good and then, brace yourself when it's winter. But unlike bears, they don't hibernate. People here still push and shove (much of the snow) but also continue on with their day to day tasks despite the unruling weather. 

I didn't realize that I had a lot to say about this topic. Nevertheless, I hope someone found my blabble entertaining. It was for me, writing it. Also, my viewpoint is not limited to just Los Angeles and New York. I attended college in San Diego and now living in Boston, for graduate work. There are similarities/differences in that as well, but I guess that'll have to wait for another entry date.

Just wanted to mention a few thoughts about my observations and maybe, help someone understand those cities a little bit more without spending the rent I did for those places :)

Monday, August 15, 2011

On my Father.

Today is his birthday. Recently, I visited New York to celebrated my Uncle's birthday (brother to my father). It was a wonderful, soul-freshing experience and got a few new stories about my father that I can add to my list.

One, I sort of knew but wasn't sure on the details. Found out my father lived in England at one time. He came back saying words like "bloody" and "bloke", which my Uncle found amusing since it was coming out of a dark-skinned Filipino man. Now, do not mistaken my father as some Filipino man of short stature and thick accent. Far from it. The Almirol clan is of a different breed.

My father, a professor in Anthropology Studies with a particular focus on Asian-Americans, came to America as a Fulbright Scholar. He was to study at the University of Illinois - Urbana, then return back to the Philippines as the department dean at the Univ of the Philippines, following his completion of his studies here in the States. The problem was that when it was time for him to return to the Philippines, Martial Law was active and the regime were not fans of those with an activist history like my father. His comrades were either arrested or 'missing', so it was in my father's best interest to stay away from the PI as much as he can.

His writings became popular in Cambridge that an university invited him to come and give a talk. He grew popularity there and was offered a faculty position, which he gladly took and sufficed for the time he needed to live outside of America as he applied for a visa. Eventually, he returned back to the States to work in the UC system at Davis, California. In a way, being a student of the UC system, I'd like to think we were sort of linked in some way. Anyways, I also learned that he and a colleague were the two individuals responsible for making Tagalog an accredited course. A person that would want to be, I believe, anthropology student or graduate student (not sure which, not too big of a deal in the story) had to know two languages as a requirement. The problem was that Filipino students who knew both English and Tagalog, had to learn an additional 2 languages since Tagalog did not count as a "language". Because of these two men, Tagalog can be counted and learned in the California academia.

I also learned that my father was an exquisite writer, though I already knew this. My wish is that his skills may be part of my inheritance. When people speak to me about how intelligent or insightful my father was, I can only think of the giant shoes I'll have to fill and what I disappointment it may be for them to have only me in place of him. I get it, I create my own voice. My voice itself can and is unique.  Just because we share the same blood, it does not mean that I have the same ability to write books, teach courses, etc. I understand I can create my own legacy on my own. Just a part of me wonders, if he was here, where I can be now, not necessarily physically, but more of a state of mind. I feel half the man my father was when he was twenty-five years old.


I bumped into a former coworker of mine at the gym the other day. We both shared about losing a parent at a very young age, though sounds heart breaking, may not seem as terrible as it is. I lied, though. It's easier to say that the death of this parent did not affect me much because I was of a young age when he passed, but there are times when this is far from the truth. I am jealous of my cousins that they were able to share in engaging conversations with him. I am jealous that people can see him in me, but I cannot see what they see. I am exhausted of learning about him through secondary sources, yet I can't wait to hear story I may have not heard yet. I want to share stories, listen to his voice, and look in his eyes. I want to see what other's see: his charisma, his very, very contagious charisma.

These words I type is familiar, something I think or write or tell people when I speak of my father. Depending on the depth of our relationship or if you never knew before, I welcome you to the stories of my father. He lived a beautiful, yet such brief life. Happy Birthday dad, how I miss you so.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

On the AIDS topic.

I volunteer at an anonymous AIDS hotline, where people call in with inquiries about HIV, AIDS, STD, and the like. Typically, when someone calls, there's a good handful of questions about some genitalia abnormality or funky discharge and though we can offer some advice on what it may be, we're still not physicians at the end of the day.

The other night, however, was different from the mundane calls from the past. Not only did I speak with a couple of individuals with HIV but also, had a conversation with a man of high risk exposure. Today, I want to speak about three calls that resonated with me.

The first call, though extremely brief, was probably the most consequential. A woman recently diagnosed with HIV recently got turned down by her insurance to proceed with the following and necessary medications to hold her infection at bay. Her tone was angry, and her frustrations came through in her voice. I wanted to fight along with her; she had every right to be so. We fantasize and glorify the notable headway we've made in the medications, the progress we've made to find ways to prolong the life of a person with HIV, and even some new prophylaxis measures that would change the face of the AIDS epidemic. And yet, though there are these exhilarating solutions in our present world, it all comes with a monstrous cost and now, an insurance-company Cerberus that will DICTATE the prognosis of your HIV diagnosis by withholding your treatment. Sickening.

The second call I received, I had to recommend Post-Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP). A procedure, used for those that may be exposed to high risk scenarios, are given a cocktail of drugs that may decrease the chances of the virus transcribing into one's cells. Sure, I get a bunch of calls about the best time to wait to take an HIV exam (about 6 weeks, for "reliable" results. Gives the body enough time to create the antibodies needed to measure in an HIV exam. CDC recommends 25 days, however, this is only the majority of people. 3 months for those that are immuno-compromised, e.g. chemotherapy, auto-immune disease, transplants, etc.) or about how HIV is transmitted, but rarely and I mean rarely, do I actually get a call where there is someone that may be at high risk of HIV. I can hear the quivering in his voice, his sometimes nervous giggle as I attempt to make the situation seem less like a death sentence.

During training for these calls, we learn the facts, what to say, how to say it, et cetera. But you just never think that you'd need to pull the big guns out of your arsenal. I hope he listened and considers this option. Not just for the possibility of preventing other infections but more simply, for himself and his health. This is the imperative. This man, this individual case is not a statistic, not a potential risk of infection. He is a human being that has the options available to him to use to not become a person with HIV. The crazy thing is, what was on his mind was his partner and what he'd say to him about this and not him. I hope he can understand that though as important as his relationship may be to him, if he does not take care of this now with the resources available for him (i.e. PEP) there will be no him that would be enjoying any relationship.

The last call was a man with HIV for over a decade that resembled the story of my father. He was ousted because of his diagnosis and now, is exhausted with fighting this thing. At this point, the infection has allowed a number of O.I. (i.e. opportunistic infections), which now spread to his brain. He wants to end it, right then and there. He joked that now that he said he wanted to kill himself, would there be an ambulance at his door. I said, no since we were an anonymous hotline, I did not have access to him or where he may be located. I think he wanted to see if I would, though, had I had the resources. I almost felt a sense of disappointment when I told him there wouldn't [be someone with him] because I think in the end of the day, he just wanted to be with someone. To talk with someone or to sit without a reason or agenda.

People eventually identify themselves to be their diagnosis. He has forgotten who he was as a human being, because let's face it, this diagnosis has consumed his life, his hope, and his ability to fight for anything, let alone his own life. This man was suicidal and even more scary, he found a few good 'friends' willing to euthanize himself and take him from his pain. We spoke about the stigma of HIV and how prevalent it still exists in the 21st century, the gay community, Stonewall Uprising, in between all the suicidal thoughts. We ended the conversation sort of obscurely. I wanted to pray for him. I know he didn't ask for a prayer, nor did I tell him I was going to do so. I know, I know prayer doesn't erase his diagnosis nor the feelings he had today, but I pray that he remembers or experiences the life without the diagnosis. Even for a day. I think anyone deserves that, that freedom that lies in a healthy life. Makes you appreciative when you can wake up and not have to worry about your health.

If you didn't know, my father had passed away with AIDS. I do this [volunteering], so that I can help those that faced the same hardships as my father. I unfortunately was unable to give him the support that I'd like to believe I give these people, even if it may across a phone line.

Feel free to send me any questions about HIV, AIDS, etc. what constitutes as high risk, and so forth. My blog line is open. 

Friday, August 5, 2011

On a Friday Evening.

I always put this disclaimer that I am the way the I am, because my mother was a single parent. A lot goes into that definition; more than I think what people give it credit. I have many friends, family, even a best friend, that have children, and I wonder how it would be for them if they did not have their partner. What would that mean for them if they had to raise their children on their own, without their spouse? How would their lives be different?

My mother is alone. I am alone, as well but in a different way. I finally have a place to my own. Not to say that I didn't have my own apartment(s) before or my own space that I can call home though I had roommates, it's just this time it feels different. Even though this is the same space I shared with my other in the past, I feel like this time around I'm getting exactly what I've always wanted. Quietness. Control of my space and time. Peace. 

It may not be the city that I wanted to dwell in, but it is for the reason I've always wanted it to be. Graduate school has been something that was a long time coming. But it is also the state of mind that I've always wanted to be. I'm not sure what exactly I'm missing, what I yearn for, or the direction of where I'm going. I do know I'm a lot closer than what I was before, and I believe it'll become more clear to me as time goes by. I saw the development that CS went through, and though I've shared a number of circumstances that challenged my core, nothing comes as gratifying as completing an academia program. A graduate program, nevertheless. I actually received a plaque of his from graduation, shaking the hand of the Dean. Someone important, of course, though we do not know her name. The plaque is pretty simple: His Name, Boston University School of Medicine, Class 2011. It's concise and beautiful. 

Getting back to my mother, there is something I've always known but not experienced until now. How much I respect her for where she is. Now, I'm not saying that you MUST be single to feel this sense of "self" because I do know a handful of people that are as certain of who they are and indulged in a number of relationships, but my mom is trucking along, whether or not due to her own choices or something that just "happened" to her. I'm so proud of her. I don't know if I were in the same position, if I can perform with such grace and perseverance. 

People give her a hard time in saying that she's over protective with me, that she's wrapped her life around mines in place of hers. This may have been true, and to an extent still is, but if you think of every relationship that you've been in. When wasn't your husband or wife was the center of your universe.. or you child.. or children.. or career? My mother, though has her share of flaws, indulged in me as much as needed to. I can't judge her for the way she loved me. I don't think any of us can, when it comes to the people we love the most. 

I've completely digressed from what I thought I was going to say, shoved in a couple other subjects in the mix, and left a good hour in between this paragraph and the previous. My point of this rant is, my mom is cool for d doing what she does every day. I'm just getting a piece of that now. Grant it, I don't have the luxury of the friends and family that are local. But I'm hanging in there cuz my mom has. If she can do it, I can do it, too. So bring it on graduate school, alone in Bostonia. I ain't scared of ya! Growl!