On Hobbits-True Stories (Or, FilipinAmericana: A Few Bittersweet Words)

4 min

In a hole in the ground they found a Hobbit, dead for over fifty thousand years, surrounded by the things that meant comfort: a rhino carcass, a stone tool that might have been an adze or a shovel, and the bones of friends. It’s likely that when living, she was brown-skinned.1 No one says she died partying, but I don’t think I’ll be faulted for finding that story in the fossils.

The Hobbit’s children’s children’s descendants were many, though not too many, and grew twice as tall as she, which was still not very tall. They encountered Big People from across the great salt waters who mixed with them, sometimes in love and sometimes in cruelty.Like so many Little People, the Hobbits were often looked down upon as they entered into commerce and relationship with Big People.3

1 See any and all references to Homo luzonensis.

2 See references to ancient Philippine commerce with India, China, and other world powers. See Colonialism, Spanish. See “the U.S. didn’t call it colonialism but . . .” See also War Brides, Philippines.

3 See “Little Brown Brothers” and “The White Man’s Burden”. See also Gen. Jacob W. “Howling Wilderness” Smith whose curious idea of purging the Philippines of undesirables included all persons over the age of ten on Samar Island, as he considered them capable of bearing arms.

But as a Big Person once said, while one can learn all there is about the ways of Hobbits—their good food,4 their inclination for danceable music,5 their raunchy, sometimes questionable humor6—in a month, still, after three centuries in a Catholic convent and fifty years in Hollywood they can surprise you.7 Hobbits are in America, bitches. We’re doing your intubations and blowing your noses, and we’re not afraid to die doing it.8

4 See chicken adobo. See kamayan. See lechon.

5 See, e.g., Bruno Mars at Superbowls XLVII and L.

6 See, e.g., Jokoy, “Losing to Your Mom at Wii Sports”.

7 See Jose Rizal, Filipino nationalist and polymath; the Moro struggle and the Colt 45; the Philippine-American Army, World War II. See Fe del Mundo, M.D., and the breaking of the gender barrier at Harvard Medical School; and inventing the incubator; and modern pediatrics; and maternal-child healthcare in Asia. See also Rodrigo Duterte, one of the cleverest and scariest of contemporary autocrats.

8 If you’ve been hospitalized in the U.S., you’ve been cared for by Filipinx nurses, doctors, orderlies, etc. See also Filipinx healthcare workers and Covid-19.

Sorry. Sorry about "bitches"! It won’t do to write crudely of Hobbits.9 We don’t style ourselves as dragonslayers or kings.10 We are the guy on America’s Got Talent who sings like Celine. We are the machine room guys from that cruise line who worked hard and bought the company so that we could professionalize our natural inclination to entertain while making a fair wage.11

9 Sorry! See adobo. See pan de sal withqueso de bola. See leche flan and hopia and halo-halo fusion desserts. Kain na!

10 But see Note 8.

11 Kidding. Like this Note, Filipinx cruise ship employees are most often below and easily disregarded.

Everyone knows this story: A Hobbit carries a Burden into One Great Darkness, in Fellowship with Big People. The Hobbit’s size, status, and strong urge to return to the Shire don’t matter in the making of history, nor in choosing his story. “All we have to decide,” say the Big People to the Hobbit, “is what to do with the time that is given us.”12

12 Meaning: If you don’t carry the Burden, the Big People can’t protect the Shire, and then where will you be?

The happy ending is that the Hobbit carries the Burden to its destruction, is robbed of his last-ditch claim to power, loses a finger, is emotionally wrecked by the journey, and lives forever with his sorrow, never escaping isolation despite the Fellowship who pledged to support him, never able to find comfort in the Shire that he loves so dearly. The One Great Darkness is driven back, so the happy ending is bittersweet, okay?

Here are true stories I know about us; there is no single darkness, no one journey; the happy ending is always bittersweet.

You have a young widow from Olongapo City with a cap of black hair and strong arms, who leaves her children with her sisters and brothers on a quest for wealth in New Jersey, wielding a vacuum hose and a Swiffer.

You have a tattooed, elfin driver from Cavite Province, slowly selling off everything to support his family after his jeepney fails to meet new regulatory requirements, who finally goes to sea to work below decks and send his wages home.

From Cebu, a woman with superb taste and a medical degree, who cherishes a Samurai sword captured by her father during the War. From Davao City, a man with a fine palate, a datu’s descendant, who has a nursing certificate. They face the Big People’s exams and win their way to Virginia and California.

The quests are so successful that wealth flows into Olongapo, Cavite, Cebu, Davao, for years, enough for dozens of children to go to school, enough for grandchildren, even, and for other people’s grandchildren to build houses, to care for pet dogs and lush little gardens, to support the Church and the less fortunate.

The Cavite woman’s cap of hair turns silvery with wealth. One of her sons back in Olongapo, who she last saw twenty years ago, dies in an accident that no one admits to witnessing for fear of the police. But her daughter, a nurse in Canada, gives birth to a new granddaughter at about the same time.

The Cavite man’s elfin back collapses. His life becomes a cycle of pain medication, medical procedures, and the physical work that he can’t afford to quit. But he looks forward to his son, now in medical school, caring for him. One day soon.

For years, the doctor returns frequently to Cebu, spreading SPAM, American cash, and duty-free perfume like pixie dust. She retires to a superbly appointed American suburban home, surrounded by American grandsons. But the pandemic means she may never return to Cebu again—not even via First Class. No one remembers what became of the Samurai sword.

The nurse from Davao gets sick. But he gets well. Or maybe he dies, but his daughter’s work in bioengineering contributes to the development of a coronavirus vaccine. Or he gets well—but he can’t work anymore. While his family carries on (working at such a variety of healthcare professions that the sole Humanities student in the clan calls their gatherings the Moveable Hospital), he perfects his pancit bihon and lumpia Shanghai and supervises the completion of a lechon pit. He hosts buffet dinners for Big and Little People for miles around. Food so good, it breaks your heart. Whenever he gets a new Big Person to taste his diniguan—or his pinakbet, so fragrant, so bittersweet with ampalaya and camote and bagoong—everyone giggles.

He calls his diniguan “chocolate meat” and offers a bite to the new guest. Its richness melts on her tongue. Its heat fills her eye sockets with tears (the pleasant kind). She’s not stupid—she knows it isn’t really chocolate—but she humors him, her friend’s uncle, who’s on an oxygen tank, who cooks as if his life depended on it.

When someone tells her, spookily, You’re eating the blood and guts of a pig, she laughs and says, Yum.

Well! says the nurse’s wife, Maybe you’re Filipina.

I wish! she groans. You guys have the best food!


Few words for the author? Comment below. 8 comments

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ALYAE B.S · ago
All of my 5 votes for such a good and Interesting story. Hope you'll come and read my text on final https://short-edition.com/fr/oeuvre/tres-tres-court/la-face-cachee-de-lisere. Thanks again. ☺️
Image of Donna Lee Miele
Donna Lee Miele · ago
Thank you Alyae! I look forward to reading up on the other finalists soon!
Image of ALYAE B.S
ALYAE B.S · ago
Thanks Donna, I'll wait for you. But if you can do it before tomorrow, it will help me a lot 'cause the end of the competition is tomorrow...
Anyway, have an excellent day... 😁

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Donna Lee Miele · ago
Alyae, I could not find your work at the link. What's the title and what is the name of the contest? Maybe I can search for it.
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Donna Lee Miele · ago
Yes, that worked.
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Keith Simmonds · ago
Interesting and fascinating story related with great enthusiasm! My support!
Image of Donna Lee Miele
Donna Lee Miele · ago
Thanks Keith!