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  • Writer's picturebino realuyo

Reflection: "Filipineza" and U2's Joshua Tree 2019 Manila Concert

{ According to Billboard, the Joshua Tree Tour 2017 drew 2.7 million attendees from 50 shows. The band is currently touring Asia and is performing in the Philippines for the first time. In the U.S. tour in 2017, the concerts featured the poems of Walt Whitman, Langston Hughes, Rita Dove, Naomi Shihab Nye, and Carl Sandberg. }

In my life voyage, there have been many, many surprises. But I wouldn't be exaggerating if I said that U2's inclusion of my poem "Filipineza" in its 30th anniversary Joshua Tree Concert, in Manila no less, is at the top of that list.

I grew up in Manila where I had to buy my family a radio one Christmas--from money I had saved from my meager allowance--because the only radio we had had been broken for months. Without TV, there was no music or any form of entertainment in the house other than what we heard from our nearby neighbors (which usually traveled with loud voices anyway). Music came to me in my childhood in the form of transistor radios. Moving to the U.S. changed all that. Having a job a couple of months after arrival made many things affordable, including my own television and in that era, a walkman. Going to Wall Street for work was made easy by listening to music. Those were not easy first years considering culture shock and my first ever job in my life. U2’s songs and lyrics were light in the dark and nameless streets of my early years in America. 32 years of Joshua Tree is equivalent to the three decades of my immigrant American life. I know of very few bands, and don't have a very long playlist of songs that I have been listening to for the past 30 years.

When I received an email that said on its subject: Licensing Poem 'Filipeza' for U2 Joshua Tree Tour (Private and Confidential), I naturally thought it was spam. But even spams are not that specific and pointed, with correct grammar and punctuation. It took about half an hour to verify the validity and legitimacy of the email. I responded immediately. After all, the concert was in a week, and how could we possibly clear all rights in a few days. Business tasks aside, it put my life on hold for a while. "Where Streets Have No Name" and "With or Without You" were anthems of my youth in NYC. Nostalgia hit me at a time I didn't really welcome it. U2's music is one of those that never fade, locked in parts of my brain that hold the key to my past. For days, I went to work a bit startled and like the teenager who came to a new country for redemption, lost in thoughts.

What probably unsettled me most was the fact that it was going to happen in Manila, not here in the U.S., where I have lived for 35 years, where I have published a novel and a poetry collection, where I am attempting to publish two more books. After a little bit of research I found out it has happened before, in 2017, this inclusion of poets. The American poets they included were either already dead or too big a name to probably even care (maybe they did care, but who knows?). So, there is ultimately poetic justice in being included in U2’s concert not in the U.S but in their first ever concert in Manila, the city of my birth. The poem "Filipineza" is after all about Filipinos. I am humbled and moved. I know my literary mind will always find something to write about when I think of this moment. For one thing, "Filipineza" was published in The Nation 18 years ago, and was from a collection published 13 years ago. Shockingly, the state of Filipino servitude outside the Philippines hasn't changed, except for the remittances that have grown so much to support an economy.

For now, I truly hope that the poems served their purpose for inclusion —as points of reflection for those who attended the concert, and in the case of my poem “Filipineza” to warn us about the dark side and perils of the Filipino diaspora. My thoughts on the demagogue will be saved for another blog post, but U2, for me, will always be political, and we can't listen to their music and ignore the layered meanings of their words. For this reason, "Filipineza" is an apt inclusion, if only to shed light on the struggles of women who leave the Philippines every year to work as domestics abroad, a "truth" that changed the meaning of "Filipina" to "maids" in Europe.

Further Reading:

Thank you, U2 and also thank you to these publications for featuring the poem in the news. In our fight for the #truth in a new world that continues to chip away our freedoms and deny us our #HumanRights, I hope poetry could make a difference.

And mentions here:

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