Lunch at a ridgesite restaurant w/ one of those roving filipiniana quartets. They sing “call me maybe” and “what makes you beautiful” when they come to our table. The kids smile, politely clap. The female vocalist asks what else would we like—“taylor swift?” No, I say, sing us a filipino love song. They propose something from a telenovela. No, no. They are slightly surprised when we ask for something old; the older the better.

They sing “prinsesa ng kumintang”, a kundiman popularized in the ’40s. All together, all heart. The twins are enthralled. The people at the table next to us shift in their seats to listen, to watch. I can hardly breathe. Sometimes I hate this country so much that I want to leave it, set every small-minded, corrupt, pretentious, shallow filipino on fire.

But music like this, more than any visual or literary artwork, brings me back. Reminds me that we weren’t—aren’t—so bad. That we can go back to being true and noble and elegantly, intelligently complex, if we choose to. If and when. After, we applaud. And the quartet moves onto another table, at the other end of the room, to sing katy perry and adele.


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