On complicity

And tofu sisig

A few months ago, in the middle of what would be a three-week lockdown, a comparatively shorter quarantine than the rest of the world, my boyfriend (Joff) and I started going through the backlog of films we had been meaning to see. Uncut Gems and Kedi are two that stick out, another was The Last Black Man in San Francisco.

The film follows Jimmie and his best friend Mont as they navigate an increasingly unrecognizable San Francisco. Jimmie’s attachment to the house he lived in as a child, a beautiful Victorian home his grandfather had built in the ‘40s, is the film’s main point of resistance. Despite no longer living there, Jimmie visits the house regularly, carrying out repairs on its facade and repainting parts of it when its current tenants, an older white couple, aren’t home—much to their annoyance. It’s a beautifully moody film that explores our shifting ideas of ‘home’ and the consequences of gentrification. To say that it’s a love letter to San Francisco would be an oversimplification. It’s much more than that.

In one of the film’s final scenes, we see Jimmie on the Muni, when he overhears two women talking.
“This city blows,” one of them says.
“We should just move to East LA.”
The other agrees, “Seriously, fuck this city.”
Jimmie interrupts them. “You don’t get to hate San Francisco,” he tells them.
“Yeah, sorry dude but I think I’ll hate what I want,” the woman retorts.
“Do you love it?” Jimmie asks. She shrugs. “I mean, I’m here. But do I have to love it?”
“You don’t get to hate it unless you love it,” he says.

Last month, as people were storming the streets of every major city in the US to protest the deaths of George Floyd, Brianna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and the countless others who’ve been killed by racism and police brutality, lawmakers in the Philippines, where I’m from, sought to pass the Anti-Terror Bill, which would effectively criminalize dissent and allow warrantless arrests. Rightfully, people were angry and protests against the legislation’s passing flooded social media. Many, including myself, were galvanized by what they were seeing online with BLM and used the momentum to rally against the bill.

As the two movements swelled, I started thinking about my own complicated relationship with the Philippines and how, for years, I had failed to use my privilege to fight for the disenfranchised back home, even as I used it to amplify causes in other countries. My misgivings with the Philippines are far from unique. It’s all too common to hear people lament how hopeless the country is and, instead, look elsewhere for relief. This doesn’t excuse it; in fact, it makes it worse.

A few weeks ago, I got unreasonably angry after coming across a few posts by a friend. ‘I hate my country,’ she wrote. It was a sentiment she’d expressed before and continued to even amid the Terror Bill protests, the arrests of the Piston Six, and the others that followed. It felt insensitive; like there was an unwillingness to ‘read the room.’ How can you hate something you’ve never even fought for, I thought to myself.

Of course I later realized the reason it had made me so angry was because I saw myself in her, or at least a version of myself I didn’t want to acknowledge. I’ve been that person. I’ve talked shit about the Philippines, many of us have, without ever stopping to think about what ‘hating the Philippines’ actually means. Blinded by our own privilege, we fail to see that it’s not the country we hate but the system and our own complicity in upholding it. It’s a lot to unpack, and yet I feel like I still haven’t even scratched the surface.

I know now that it’s no longer enough to be grateful for the life that I have, to ‘count my blessings’ as I’m so often told to. I realize now that unless I’m doing something to actively change things, I’m just as ignorant as the women on the Muni in the film. Because you don’t get to hate the Philippines unless you love it.

And now, a recipe for sisig, a dish that’s famously made with pig’s face and chicken livers, because nothing says, “Let’s confront some ugly truths shall we?” than cooking up a batch of face and innards. Fortunately for our pig friends, we’ve subbed the face meat for our old pal tofu.

Ingredients:

1 package of firm tofu, drained and squeezed of excess liquid, cut into planks

1 medium onion, diced

1 bird’s eye chili (remove or keep seeds based on heat preference), chopped

3 garlic cloves, chopped

2 tsp liquid seasoning like Maggi or Knorr

1 tbsp mayonnaise

Calamansi (I used lime)

Directions:

  1. Heat a few tablespoons of vegetable oil in a pan, then add the tofu planks. Fry on both sides until golden brown, about 3-4 minutes each side. Remove and place in a bowl.

  2. Smash tofu with a fork or potato masher until broken up and resembling ground meat, leaving some parts more intact than others. Keep in the bowl while you cook your aromatics.

  3. Cook the onions in the same pan you used for the tofu until soft and translucent, then add the garlic and chili and sauté until fragrant. Add the ground up tofu to the pan and combine with the aromatics.

  4. Add the liquid seasoning, combine and let cook for two to three more minutes. Then add the mayonnaise, combine and taste for salt.

  5. Scoop it all into a bowl and squeeze some calamansi over it. Garnish with a few more halves and enjoy! Eat with a bowl of rice or as pulutan (drinking snack) with beer.

Feel free to comment or call me out on Twitter. Thanks for reading.