Ateneo De Naga high school 1980

Those who do not remember history are bound to live through it again.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Penniless inside a Dollar

September 9, 2009

Years ago, there was a comment made by a well respected chairman of a charitable institution in the Philippines that there are no Filipino beggars in the U.S. This fact held true to me until last September 7, 2009.

My family and I were at the city of San Diego that day trying out the different Filipino desserts being sold by Pinoy stores and restaurants. Outside one of the stores, I noticed that there was a Filipino man who is on his late 40’s or early 50’s wearing earphones and carrying an old backpack. He was a bit shabby and acted very restless while smoking a cigarette. When I went to a Chow King restaurant nearby, I noticed that the man also entered the restaurant and went from table to table asking for alms. He even asked some of the patrons if he could have some of their food. I heard him speak in English but he had a clear Filipino accent. This made me conclude that he spent a part of his life in the Philippines.

While my wife and children were busy checking out the freshly baked ‘kakanins’, I looked at the man and wondered how he became a beggar. Perhaps years ago, this man boarded a 747 plane bound for the U.S. and was probably met by his relatives at the airport. He worked hard to set up a decent life and possibly had children of his own. During his struggles to carve out a living, something terrible happened. Did he have a family tragedy?….Made a string of wrong or unwise decisions?…...Went through some tragic life experience? Only the Almighty knows his life. The only thing I know is something happened in this man’s life that broke his spirit to continue pursuing his dream.

At first, I wanted to spark a conversation with the Filipino beggar to find out the circumstances that led to his present state. Though my curiosity is pushing me to talk to this Pinoy, my conscience pulled me back warning me that the man might not want to share with me anything about his past. I observed that the poor Pinoy does not seem to have any physical disabilities because he walked around without any difficulty. I have a small amount of money in my pocket but hesitated to give it to him afraid that he might use the money to buy cigarettes or alcohol. It made me wondered if he has some mental disabilities because a large number of homeless people are suffering from some sort of mental illness that is why they are unable to bring themselves out of their slump.


That poor Pinoy reminded me of an old TV show in the Philippines called, “Apple Pie, Patis, atbp”, which was hosted by comedian Joey De Leon. The show featured the lives of Filipinos from different countries all over the world. The interviews played during the show were quite interesting because the Filipinos narrated their humble beginnings and the struggles that they had to endure to establish their careers in their new host country. One Filipino that they interviewed said that in the Philippines, when your life and career spirals downward, your relatives and friends will be there to hold you up or cushion your fall. This way you are still able to dust yourself and continue life. But in the U.S. or Europe, if you fall, your plunge will be deep and you will hit the bottom hard.

Do you still remember the beggars that we used to see around Naga city? When I was a young boy during the 1960’s and 1970’s, I remember one particular blind beggar who sat daily near the cross walk of Naga Cathedral. He was an old man who is probably on his late 50’s or early 60’s and he would be on his knees for hours softly saying over and over again, “Palimos man po….Palimos man poooo….” Whenever I give him a 5 or 10 centavo coin, he would say, “Salamat poo..”.

Another known Naga beggar is an old lady whom everybody calls “Bagyo”. She would sometimes spend her time hanging out at the small “Virgin Mary” garden next to Sisters of Saint Paul bookstore. For years, people tormented “Bagyo” relentlessly and she would always lose her temper and cuss those who teased her. Someone told me that during World War 2, Japanese soldiers executed the husband of Bagyo. The mental trauma from the loss of her husband caused Bagyo to lose her sanity. Then one stormy day, Bagyo decided to collect broken wood and also vegetables to cook for food. A bunch of cruel and insensitive people decided to make fun of her and started calling her “Bagyo”. I do not know if the story is true but what I know is Bagyo is now in the presence of God and her tormentors are now about to face judgment.

Ever since the economy took a nose dive, I have seen the lives of many people from all nationalities here in the U.S. go from prosperity to poverty. There seemed to be a very thin space between those two levels of living. People who used to enjoy financial abundance for years are now scrambling to make ends meet. One day you could be enjoying caviar and the next you are eating kamote. Earthly treasures can disintegrate in a blink of an eye and you are left with crumbs to survive on.

My friends, if you see a person whose life seemed utterly pathetic, do not turn your back at him or her. Open your hand and share your blessings to the struggling person. Please do not despise the person by walking away. Just realize that it does not take a lot for you to turn into the person whom you look down on.

Have a heart, share your blessings.

Deuteronomy 15: 7-8 “If there is among you a poor man of your brethren, within any of the gates in your land which the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart nor shut your hand from your poor brother, but you shall open your hand wide to him and willingly lend him sufficient for his need, whatever he needs.”

1 Comments:

Blogger K said...

A good article, Ivan. Our Catholic Community was serving a meal once in a soup kitchen. One of the homeless was a Filipina. She was shy and would bow her head when we are nearby. So her privacy was respected. We knew not her circumstances, but oppotunities galore remain in U. S. to both care and prosper.

7:51 AM  

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