Friday, December 1, 2006

Letter from New York: Citizenship Test

by Mart Martell

DECEMBER EVENTS -- December 7, 1941: At 7:55 a.m. Hawaii time [10 p.m. Manila time], a Japanese dive bomber bearing the red symbol of the Rising Sun of Japan on its wings appears out of the clouds above the island of Oahu. A swarm of 360 Japanese warplanes followed, descending on the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor in a ferocious assault. The surprise attack struck a critical blow against the U.S. Pacific fleet and drew the United States irrevocably into World War II. We in Manila received the news on morning of December 8, a Monday. I remember my first reaction, was that (whoopee!) we didn’t have to go to school. And since the Japanese, according to my father’s American friends, won’t last a week in a war against America, we might as well enjoy this unexpected vacation. A month later, these same Americans were internees in the Santo Tomas University – for the next 3 years.

*** December 8, 1980: John Lennon is killed by an obsessed fan in New York City. The 40-year-old Beatle was entering his luxury Manhattan apartment building when Mark David Chapman shot him four times at close range with a .38-caliber revolver. Lennon, bleeding profusely, was rushed to the hospital but died en route. Chapman had received an autograph from Lennon earlier in the day and voluntarily remained at the scene of the shooting until he was arrested by police. Lennon was considered the intellectual Beatle and was the most outspoken of the four. He caused a major controversy in 1966 when he declared that the Beatles were "more popular than Jesus," prompting mass burnings of Beatles' records in the American Bible Belt. Which perhaps shouldn’t be surprising: it’s been reported that there were more voters for the American Idol show than for the last presidential elections here.

*** December 10, 1898: In France, the Treaty of Paris is signed, formally ending the Spanish-American War and granting the United States its first overseas empire. Which meant that the American colonization of the Philippines began. Filipinos who thought that the Americans were there to help them against the Spaniards turned their guns against the new occupiers, and 10 times more U.S. troops died suppressing the Philippines than in defeating Spain. The Americans paid 20-million dollars to Spain as part of the Philippine sale. Cuba, Guam and Puerto Rico were also part of the settlement.

*** December 24, 1865: In Pulaski, Tennessee, a group of Confederate veterans meets to form a secret society that they christen the "Ku Klux Klan." The KKK rapidly grew from a secret social fraternity to a paramilitary force bent on reversing the federal government's progressive Reconstruction Era activities in the South, especially policies that elevated the rights of the local African-American population. The Klan employed violence as a means of pushing back Reconstruction and its enfranchisement of African- Americans. And if you think this claim to racial superiority has already disappeared in these United States, just read or watch the local news.

*** December 25, 4 A.D.: This day is supposed to be the day that Jesus Christ was born, although few in the first two Christian centuries claimed any knowledge of the exact day or year in which he was born. The oldest existing record of a Christmas celebration is found in a Roman almanac that tells of a Christ's Nativity festival led by the church of Rome in 336 A.D. The precise reason why Christmas came to be celebrated on December 25 remains obscure, but most researchers believe that Christmas originated as a Christian substitute for pagan celebrations of the winter solstice. In the early fourth century, church leaders had to contend with a popular Roman pagan holiday commemorating the "birthday of the unconquered sun" (natalis solis invicti)--the Roman name for the winter solstice. To rationalize the celebration of Jesus’s birthday in late December, church leaders may have argued that since the world was allegedly created on the spring equinox (late March), so too would Jesus have been conceived by God on that date. The Virgin Mary, pregnant with the Son of God, would therefore have given birth to Jesus nine months later on the winter solstice.

*** December 30, 1898: Jose Rizal is executed in what is now Luneta. This begs a question: Have we had any real heroes since then? Men and women who fought, lived and died for a vision or an ideal that would inspire Filipinos to action and sacrifice? And looking at the situation in the Philippines today: There’s a lot of criticism and hue and cry about Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. But the question is: Sino naman ang ipapalit sa kanya? If this were a basketball team, it seems we don’t have a very deep bench. Or maybe there’s no bench at all.

GENUINE CUISINE? – You are vacationing in Rome, having a delicious dinner of “authentic” Italian cuisine -- a delicious dinner of pasta with meat sauce and grated Parmesan. Add a salad of fresh mozzarella and Roman tomatoes sprinkled with Tuscan olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Maybe you'll wash it down with some Amaretto liqueur. All those Italian names. But there's a catch: none of this food was actually made in Italy. Foods that look or sound Italian but are produced elsewhere amount to $66 billion in annual sales — nearly half the $135.5 billion worth of real Italian food that is sold worldwide in a year, says Coldiretti, Italy's farmers association. This situation is quite pervasive and actually misleading. I am reminded of some Pinoy eateries that call themselves PampangueƱo in their advertising but actually are not; they just trade on the reputation of Pampango cuisine as delicious. I am amused and resentful of this, as a PampangueƱo on my mother’s side. I once went to eat in a so-called Pampanga restaurant; and when I tried to engage the folks there in Kapampangan, nobody knew the language. Anyway, in this day and age, is there anything like genuine regional Pinoy cooking? Like pinakbet, papait, or kari-kari or sinugba? And I wonder if the second-generation younger Pinoys here in the States care one way or the other.

THE ALL-IMPORTANT REMOTE -- The police in Mussidan in Aquitaine, France said that while a retired man was at their station reporting the theft of his television, the thief returned to the man’s house, where alert neighbors tipped them off and they caught him red-handed. “He came back to take the remote control,” a police spokesman said.

CITIZENSHIP TESTS – Those of our kababayans who applied for citzenship will remember the tests they had to prepare for. They had to know the answers to “How many stripes are there in the flag?”; “What color are the stripes on the flag?”; '”What do the stripes on the flag represent?” and the obvious, '”What are the colors of our flag?” Not anymore. The federal government rolled out a new citizenship test Thursday to replace an exam that critics say has encouraged prospective Americans simply to memorize facts, rather than fully understand the principles of a democracy. There will be 144 questions on civics and history, including 57 rephrased questions from the current exam. [All the questions are available on the agency's Web site,]. I guess this will be something like the difference between a True-False test where you can bluff and guess your way around, and an essay test. [No more guessing!] The new test will include questions like: Name one important idea found in the Declaration of Independence. What type of economic system does the United States have? Why do we have three branches of government? Name one example of checks and balances. It also occurs to me that if you asked some Americans these same questions they wouldn’t know the answers. And I’d dare say that there’s still many of them who couldn’t sing the Star-Spangled Banner correctly and completely, if at all.