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***SOURCE: The Urian Anthology 1980-1989

REVIEW: 'Merika

Emmanuel A. Reyes Tempo, 1984

TENDER EFFORT: ONE FROM THE HEART

"'Merika" comes at a trying moment when the foremost thing on people's
minds is to flee the archipelago for more rewarding frontiers. Sadly
enough, after 38 years of independence, the Filipino no longer sees his
own country as land of opportunity. The promise of progress has gone
bust. Traditional values of home, family, and love of country have
consequently eroded under the threat of hunger and torment. The need for
more money has become apparent. Faced with the need to survive, the
Filipino is forced to seek work elsewhere. He is happy for a while to be
in another corner of the world. But when he realizes that he is no
longer the king of his own culture but a servant of a more affluent
race, he starts to dream about home and wish for that life he had left
behind.

"'Merika" doesn't attempt to declare anything big about Filipinos and
their life in the United States. It's a simple story of loneliness and
survival in the land of milk and honey. And it is precisely this
simplicity that allows the film to bring to surface with uncommon
details of alienation and despair in a life where success is measured by
a dollar-earning job and a bag of American groceries.

We see a fairly representative sector of Filipinos living in America
through the eyes of Milagros Cruz (Nora Aunor), a nurse working in a New
York City hospital. It is her fifth year on the job and life for her has
become a predictable routine of quick meals, subway rides, Caucasian
patients and late night TV. To augment her income, she holds a second
job at a nursing home. Although her two jobs keep her well-off, Mila
harbors a secret wish to come home to the Philippines. And while her
wish is not an impossible one, the decision involved is a difficult one
to make.

For Mila, her decision to come home or to stay is largely shaped by a
circle of Filipino friends and acquaintances, all of whom have changed
in outlook and attitude towards their native land and their adopted
country. For the most part, knowledge of events back home has become
speculative while knowledge of the new land has become increasingly
material and resentful. An aging Filipino whom Mila befriends at the
nursing home becomes her surrogate father. The old man is angry at the
manner in which his generation was received by the Americans in the
years before the war. Mila's younger friends, on the other hand, are
luckier in terms of present-day opportunities. While some have remained
honest, others have become callous, even rotten, in adopting the
American way of life. All have moments of pride in terms of achievement
but no one cares to admit the degradation one goes through to earn that
better life, Mila's final decision comes with much pain but it's one
deed that's a tribute to human courage and determination.

What is clearly admirable about "'Merika," is its affecting portrait of
loneliness, so thoughtfully realized by Nora Aunor's touching
performance, Gil Portes's direction and Doy del Mundo and Gil Quito's
homely screenplay. The film does not emphasize a single, urgent cause
for Mila's wanting to go home precisely because such loneliness cannot
be quantified. For the migrant Filipino, this kind of loneliness exists
in mind and heart but it can never be completely expressed. It's a
feeling so deep seated, it couldn't be relieved entirely, even by a
long-distance call. The film utilizes many images to describe this sad
feeling---from chilly scenes of winter to bare trees, disabled senior
citizens, to the never-ending pictures on television. It all adds up to
a very, very cold account of a life of sacrifice in a country of great
expectations.

After menacing ventures abroad ("Miss X," "Carnival Queen"), Gil Portes
finally lands on solid ground with "'Merika." For once, the travelogue
approach to shooting pictures abroad is smartly avoided. We can forgive
the movie for its little flaws. After all, it's a tender effort that's
one form the heart.


contributed by Ron