Living in The Land of The Free

Did he just ask that?

“Are you a terrorist?” Jeremy threw that question at me as I was about to part my jaws for a big sigh of relief for completing a stressful day at the office. Caught in an awkward situation, I answered, “NO” straight to his face.

Festival of Cultures

Jeremy is no friend. Neither is he an acquaintance. He merely saw me going out of Wecota Hall at around midnight after I finally called it a day from work. Suspecting that he was waiting for a friend to come out from the back door of the Wecota student dorm, I calmly strode past him with one thing in mind: to get myself home. Such was my luck that when I started pacing fast, he shouted, “Hey!” With only the cacophony of the snow drifting between us, I knew he was trying to catch my attention.

I stopped. I looked back at him with my hood still covering my head. “Were you the Vietnamese I saw in the bar?” he asked. “I’m afraid not,” I responded while trying to gesture with my hand that I wanted to leave. But he walked closer to me and asked which country I was from. I gladly answered that I came from the Philippines.

He seemed to be like a red-butt fly that my mother used to tell me has an itchy bottom that just cannot stop hovering around your head and pestering you. Jeremy was sort of like that, a lost ball in the high weeds. The word Philippines flickered like a cigarette lighter inside his dark matter and ignited the probably long kept question he would want to ask someone: “Are you a terrorist?” The association of the Philippines with terrorism may have a little sense of truth, as in a few past cases leftists from down south of the country created world headlines with acts of unlawful violence and war. However, labeling me as a terrorist is beyond any intellectual capacity and forgiveness, especially if you are someone I happen to meet one midnight outside Wecota Hall. You can say any off-putting and discreditable things about the Philippines, but never call me a terrorist.

After saying my “NO” to a question I found offensive, I tried to compose myself. “If you are a terrorist, I tell you I can kill you right here.” Lo and behold! That was the moment I was about to raise a fist and start a boxing brawl. Then the back door opened and an Asian-looking lady peeped out (a Vietnamese, I figured). I have seen her before, and she probably is living in Wecota dorm and Jeremy is her friend. I said my hello.

Jeremy was not planning on cutting the conversation short while his girl watched us from the door. He asked how I viewed the plane crash at the Hudson River, which made big headlines online and on TV when it happened. Since I followed that news, I told him that it was a tragic experience for the 155 passengers. Although no one was badly hurt, the mere fact that a commercial plane had gone haywire and landed on a river and not on a runway, meant the passengers had already cheated death. Without the heroic act of the pilot, everything could have turned disastrous. But Jeremy viewed the incident as something cool. He said it was never tragic, but “cool,” yet he never elaborated his stand.

Tired of standing out in the cold, I told Jeremy I had to go. He extended his hand for a friendly shake. I gladly accepted it. Before he finally reached for the door, he said “sorry” to me and uttered this, “America is the land of the free.” As I walked home, I thought of a short story of what has happened: Jeremy went to a bar, had some booze, met a Vietnamese girl, followed her to the dorm, saw me as I was about to go home, called me a terrorist, argued that the plane crash was cool and not tragic and then said sorry to me (this part somehow pacified me) before he finally decided to spend time with his girl.

To Jeremy: wake up and smell the coffee. If by any chance you will meet someone from my country, remember that Filipinos do not act like undomesticated animals. We are peace-loving people who consider life like a bowl of cherries. I will give you a free trip to the Philippines, and you will realize that, just like Americans, we also live in the land of the free.

[This article was published in the Collegian.]

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