The Bayani Tour

by Jose Ma. Montelibano


I am in the middle of a late night drive from Santa Clara to Long Beach, from Northern to Southern California, a full six hours without stopping. There are two young Fil-Ams traveling with me to meet with fellow advocates and volunteers in a common cause in the Bay Area. The last meeting was with Fil-Am students from Santa Clara University.

Five years of regular quarterly trips to the United States have brought me to where I am today – in a heightened state of anticipation that younger generations of Filipinos in America are awakening to their being Filipino. And it is a positive and optimistic awakening that enables them to look enthusiastically at themselves as members of a race that is beginning to rise above the shame of poverty and corruption.

After a day, a dynamic young professional running a home health business agreed to lead the effort to send medicines, medical supplies and equipment, and arrange medical and surgical missions to the Philippines with priority to disaster-stricken provinces. She had been one of the earlier volunteers who was working to build the first Gawad Kalinga villages in Bagong Silang but had migrated to the US more than ten years ago.

We also had a lively meeting with another Fil- Am who is the mayor of Milpitas. Joe Estevez has managed to win election after election with the least of campaign funds and a treasury of goodwill. Though looking like a friendly senior citizen, Joe’s resolve to keep improving the services that can be offered to his constituent is idealistic and determined. His city is a microcosm of United States – a multi-ethnic society, and Joe wants the various minority groups to keep the best of their cultures and contribute these to America.

The last two meetings were with two generations of Fil-Ams, including a college classmate and a former business associate. The older ones, meaning my age, of course, remain very connected to the motherland and actively engage or help when the need to do so calls for it. Typhoons Sendong and Pablo have kept them busy sending funds or goods to ease the trauma of the victims.

The Santa Clara University students were the last group we met with. Their school organization is officially and aptly called Barkada. We attended one of their regular meetings and I caught them in action. I was so surprised that the Fil-Ams were researching details of the history of Filipinos in America. We all received a wonderful surprise when a video that had been commissioned to celebrate history month in 2012 was shared by its director, Sanny Leviste. The short documentary traced the 425 years of Filipinos in America. How many Filipinos in the United States and the Philippines even know that Filipinos first stepped on US soil 425 years ago?

Listening to about 30 Filipinos go about their organization’s business deepened my conviction that a new dawn for Fil-Ams is just around the bend. It will not even take a generation as the youth are ripe and already exert their influence. If you watch many of the advertisements on tri-media and cyber space, many are directed at the young, even to children. That tells us where the many of the purchasing decisions come from, or are influenced by. For one thing, in the course of the whole meeting, items on the agenda were discussed and quickly resolved – without acrimony and debate.

The highlight of the fast-and-furious trip, though, was the introduction of the Bayani Tour. Though described as a GK USA program, the Bayani Tour definitely signaled a radical expansion of Gawad Kalinga’s most popular image – that of building houses. In truth, GK is much more than building houses. From the beginning, GK had been about transforming lives and used the building of decent homes as a strategic tool to bring about that desired transformation. The Bayani Tour raises the stake even more from transforming lives of families and communities to transforming collective mindsets.

The Bayani Tour seeks to bring Filipino-Americans, especially those from the second and third generations, to the motherland, to the country of their ancestors, to the only birthplace of their race. The actual tour is a carefully guided one which wants its participants to experience that it is more fun in the Philippines, but strives as well to reconnect the long missing or absent to a history they never knew, or knew too little of. And it intends to do all these experimentally, live through the senses and direct encounters, a virtual immersion to Philippine reality.

The country’s beauty will be glimpsed with visits to Palawan and Metro Manila, culminating in GK’s Enchanted Farm, an emerging vision of what life can be if the young generation takes on the challenge of making the land productive and prosperous with their creativity and access to markets that ordinary farmers cannot do and do not have. It is an invitation for nobility beyond economic profitability and a challenge to make it together with the rich not leaving the poor behind but becoming their mentors and protectors.

The nobility of the Bayani Tour’s objective have convinced three Fil-Am YouTube stars with a combined following of more than 1.2 million direct subscribers on YouTube, mainly from the United States and the Philippines. More than 200 million views have been recorded on their work in cyberspace, and these three generous performers who are turning out to be patriots will be showcasing their love for and the beauty of the home land. More strategic personalities are being invited, and expected to accept, to be part of succeeding Bayani Tours this year.

As a new initiative, the Bayani Tour is not expected to bring in great numbers quickly. Those who will join this virtual pilgrimage to the motherland will have to shell out a few thousand dollars. But the greater impact may be in the promotion of the idea and ideals of the Bayani Tour that will reach millions of Filipinos – that we are one race, one people, one Filipino, that it is in our genetic make-up and ancient history to be heroes for one another, that we are the authors of bayanihan.

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