Though the celebrants were vibrantly upbeat at the threshold of the coming spring, the parade went largely unnoticed.
Most New Yorkers were out for work that day. I might be the only UP Ibalon, among some Bicolanos and many Filipinos, who saw the beautiful parade on TV. It opened with a moving song by a musical group called the Celtic Thunder which belted “Caledonia,” a homey rendition of a Scottish ballad, expressing love, maybe for a beautiful lady like Inang Bayan, or a longing for a place called home.
I don’t know if you can see
The changes that have come over me
In these last few days I’ve been afraid
That I might drift away
I’ve been telling old stories, singing songs
That make me think about where I’ve come from
That’s the reason why I seem
So far away today
The group of gentlemen, ages 14 to 40, in black sartorial suits, gawky Scottish skirts, and green clover leaves in their lapels, sang with forlorn bagpipes hooting in the background. The sun was merrily up in the cloudless sky. And the crowd, mostly Americans of Irish-Scottish descent, applauded.
I listened to their song. It reminded me of the Philippines where we sing our incisively patriotic Bayan Ko in a chorus.
Let me tell you that I love you
That I think about you all the time
Caledonia, you’re calling me, now I’m going home
But if I should become a stranger
Know that it would make me more than sad
Caledonia’s been everything I’ve ever had.
Caledonia is a place poetically now referred to as Scotland whose allegiance is to Great Britain. Its history dates back before the Roman times, causing some ambiguity to the names of the island-kingdoms in that part of Europe.
Benjamin Franklin, the lightning rod inventor-scientist who brokered US independence from the British in 1700s saw Ireland’s people in rags, in utter destitution in a handsome place we call the “emerald isles.” The Irish were far poorer than their genteel English counterparts and Mr. Franklin worried if America should remain a colony of Britain, his people would suffer the fate of the impoverished Celts who ate roots of shrubs and sedges to survive hard times.
But unlike the Philippines where poverty is blamed from corruption, Ireland’s economic hardships then was partly blamed on Britain’s colonial hubris and neglect which drove many to migrate to America. In no time, the numbers of Irish-Scottish Americans had been far greater than those in their places of origin.
In the 1840’s Ireland fought deathly disease and starvation arising from the wicked potato famine which decimated a large part of its population. This drove millions more to flee, leaving the country with only half of its people.
Now I have moved and I’ve kept on moving
Proved the points that I needed proving
Lost the friends that I needed losing
Found others on the way
I have kissed the fellas and left them crying
Stolen dreams, yes, there’s no denying
I have traveled hard, sometimes with conscience flying
Somewhere with the wind
I thought the singers crooned about the past and their loves, but they were inadvertently talking about the Philippines as well. I felt sad being reminded by the rising need for people to leave our country. I mean— those who don’t see any future and desire to go abroad (anytime, anyplace anywhere,) to make a home or living, regardless of the price.
Now I’m sitting here before the fire
The empty room, the forest choir
The flames have cooled, don’t get any higher
They’ve withered, now they’ve gone
But I’m steady thinking, my way is clear
And I know what I will do tomorrow
When hands have shaken, the kisses float
Then I will disappear
Hearing those sharp words, I felt a dash of homesickness after more than 20 years. Images of the Philippines went flashing in my head; some were like Dan Daz’ vivid photographs.
“Philippines, how come I always think about you?” I said to myself. “So long as we can still sing and dance under the bright sun, sans dark clouds in our own tropical emerald isles, the disputed Spratlys Islands included, hope must still be lurking there.”