Life So Mundane in Batangas
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15 May 2010

Joe: An American Post-War Legacy in the Philippines

Just the other day, I wrote about the Japs and their all-too-forgettable occupation of this country. Today, I thought just to be fair, I ought to write a piece about Joe.

It was just one of those war-era things; giving nicknames to nationalities was just fashionable. The Brits called Germans “Gerries.” To the Americans, the Germans were “Krauts.” The Brits called the Americans “Yanks”; the Americans called them “Limeys.” And both the Yanks and the Limeys called the French “Frogs”...

Joe was – when I was a small kid growing up – any white-skinned guy one chanced upon while walking the streets. Nobody bothered to ask if he was American; everyone simply assumed he was and obligatorily called out, “Hi Joe!”

Of course, for all we knew – and cared – the white-skinned man was of another nationality; perhaps, a mestizo; or just somebody as Pinoy as you and I but just of a different skin pigmentation.

We did not care... He was Kanô – American – period!

This was a more naive era when anti-American sentiments were just starting to stir. By and large, to the ordinary man-on-the-street – and most certainly to us kids – Joe continued to be revered as the former colonial master who introduced us to the democratic type of government, brought education within reach of common folks and, of course, liberated us from the oppressive claws of Japanese occupation. And not that I need to say this, he also brought with him basketball...

The “Hi Joe!” attitude was, needless to say, first picked up inside one’s home. One heard Joe-stories from Mom, Dad, Lolo and Lola.

Come Liberation, one heard from them, Joe rode into town on jeeps, atop tanks or inside personnel-carrier vehicles. He was elated to see the cheering, flag-waving crowds as they drove by to their make-shift army camps that he tossed Hershey’s bars, Snickers, Baby Ruths or chewing gums into the adoring crowds. Joe offered hope that the years of fear and insanity brought on by the Japanese occupation were finally to come to an end.

Once liberation was completed, and in fact even after Independence was granted – who needed a colony when there were so many lives to rebuild at home? – Joe continued to hang around and woo the lovely dalaguitas of the countryside.

Mom used to tell us of this story of her gettting a marriage proposal from a blue-eyed 17-year old from Arkansas. Mom, level-headed even in her youth, knew the inherent risks in being suckered into a post-war romance. And laughed the kid’s proposal away...

In time, particularly as life returned back to normal, many Joes were shipped back to the United States. The professional soldiers stayed behind at Sangley Point, Clark and Subic Bay, to name a few places where the Americans continued to maintain a presence.

Independent, though, we had become, Joe’s presence continued to be felt long after the bulk of the liberating forces had sailed back home. This was the era – and from my vantage point, this was the sixties – before peso-devaluation was invented and American-manufactured products were inexpensively available in the markets.

Just to give younger readers a perspective on this era – which was before oil cartels were formed to crank up prices – petrol sold for 20 centavos (tax-free military price) and a jeepney ride from the Base to uptown Lipa City cost 10 centavos.

My Lolo having once been a sailor in the United States Navy, among the most highly-anticipated events of each month was when both Lolo and Lola went to commissary at Sangley Point. Then we could, when we visited them in Nasugbu, beg for Hershey’s Cocoa, Kisses, M&M’s and other PX goods...

Joe also left behind this burning desire in many a Filipino’s heart to reach American shores – if just for a visit. Not just a few, as everyone knows, went there for good to live the American dream.

It was a dream that continued to be fueled by further examples of Joe’s cheap exports to this former colony: movies, and that magic-in-a-box invention, the television set. Through these media, Joe showed the Filipino an endlessly flowing stream of images of his lifestyle: fast cars and unbelievably paved freeways, picnics at the park, rollercoaster rides, parties at the beach...

Things started to change, of course, over time. Our lives still continue to be intertwined with that of Joe, but – ironically, these days – just as well even with Joe’s former wartime foe, the Jap. Or the Chinese... the Arab... the Singaporean...

While the American dream continues to burn, the Filipino is just as likely to emigrate to the Middle East, to China, to Hong Kong, to Singapore... Anywhere that one can find dollars to send back home...

Here at home, there is more likelihood of one coming across a Korean than an American. If, indeed, one does, nobody really bothers to call out “Hi Joe!” anymore.

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