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Water and Fire , an Excerpt from ‘El Filibusterismo’


By: Elaine Lehman


What is Water and Fire? To begin with, it’s the title of an excerpt from the novel El Filibusterismo by the Philippine national hero Jose Rizal. “Water are we, you say, and yourselves fi re” opens the poem in which Rizal expressed his dream for the Philippines’ advancement.

It is a metaphor about how opposing wills can peacefully come together and fi nd balance in something new “do we form steam, fi fth element indeed”. Finally, it is a conversation that proceeds from that idea. This new column will explore how our understanding of our past roots us deeply in the decisions we make in the present – about our future and what it is to be Filipino American.

As a Filipina who grew up in the United States, I have endeavored to understand both the contributions made by immigrants to the American experience, while remembering the past generations of Filipinos whose cultures shaped the choices of our forefathers to build a more inclusive world. Sharing our peoples’ stories, while exploring our intersection with other diverse groups, has deepened my longstanding interest in the architecture and environments of historical memory and integrative community.

Several changes have taken place over the last 20 month at the Filipino American Council of Greater Chicago. The Rizal Community Center got a facelift with a new handpainted sign, refl ecting our organization’s rejuvenation. The Board spent time planning in the spirit of bayanihan and making our organization a welcoming place for Filipinos, Filipino Americans, and our broader communities.

Throughout my work, the ways in which we perceive identity has emerged as paramount. Recent national and local FilAm community events are a stark call that we must change the tone of our discourse to one of unity and positive cultural aspects. As difficult as that is, we must rise to the occasion. Misinformation and gossip led to hate and violence, and harm society as a whole.

Since January 2017, the FACC has looked to its early leaders for guidance to make a positive mindshif, who in 1965, acknowledged the changing Filipino community and the need “to erase the misleading interpretation of the name …which had so long been the deterrent stigma of Unifi cation of all local Filipino” Their words resonate: We must strive to embrace our common humanity and to celebrate our intersections – our unity in diversity.

Water and Fire is a starting point for many voices to become one.


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