Brown American Smiler.

Ron Somera, Don’t Go Home Just Yet!

He doesn’t consider himself a smiler but I do. His book says so, even if his photograph doesn’t, and neither does the cover image. Smile!

A Brown American. I’m reading his book, page 124: He was now all dressed up with somewhere to go, all business suit and tie, a junior executive. To his surprise, the Forum restaurant manager in Oklahoma he worked for years ago was now managing the Chicago branch. This was the same manager from whom he had quit after 2 weeks of dishwashing. The manager had a bad mouth.

Do you remember me? I asked him.

He looked at me but said nothing. He obviously had no idea who I was until I told him of my brief stint as a dishwasher in the Oklahoma City Forum, and what happened the day I quit. He remembered and smiled. ‘You are doing very well,’ he said.

I have long forgiven this man. In fact, I was grateful that that incident happened. It is true, everything that happens in our lives has a reason. The episode in Oklahoma City forced me to redouble my efforts and focus my energies on getting a much better job than dishwashing.

I say you have to learn to forgive. If not, at least learn to smile. After he quit dishwashing, he found a caring, loving and generous couple, Filipino and German, Monico and Tillie Mones, who welcomed him as if he were their son. Time to smile.

If you don’t smile, you should not expect people to smile at you. You should not expect Lady Luck (or Mr Fortune) to smile at you.

Are you a Filipino in America and having a hard time? I recommend you read Brown American, written by Veronico ‘Ron’ Somera, with the subtitle, ‘Philippine Life, World War II and Survival in a White Man’s ‘World.’ Actually, it’s many journeys of discovery. Think: Each journey is its own reward. Not to mention a smile is its own reward.

Desperate, disgusted and want to go home? You shouldn’t go home to the same house twice – you should have changed by the second time. It should be a different you. Read Brown American and it might just change you.

Living a life is not without mistakes; writing a book is not without mistakes either. Considering the book’s subtitle, ‘Life in the Philippines’ reads better and is mellifluous. Aside from the awkward subtitle, there are some internal errors – like, Ron tried to accommodate the Americans but erred in saying the ‘Americans and Filipinos fought side by side against the colonizing Spaniards’ (p10); I know they fought against each other. That’s Minor.

This is Major: Brown American, the book, is actually 2 books in 1, in a manner of speaking. It is very helpful to the Filipinos in America struggling. Aren’t you? And it is a delightful read. I am not a Brown American, but I was surprised to find it funny, very funny, in many parts, and not just corny funny. Examples:

What the heck! Life is great in America, the most powerful country in the world! Who cares about the Philippines Republic of?
So I wrote the book.

(If you didn’t get the joke, remember, the book is about life in the US – and the Philippines before that.)

Page 25:
Through a network of spies (mostly the maids) …

Page 73:
As a car driver, his Papa had only 1 speed: slow. Then he writes:
Papa was thorough in teaching us the rudiments of driving. We learned everything from him (except driving slow).

Page 90:
But to my surprise, every time I threw in a few Spanish words, they would all respond in English. (What the heck!)

70, Ron Somera’s Brown American is half stories about life in the Philippines, with some history thrown in, and half stories about life in the United States, with some frustration and some understanding thrown in. Ron is 70, not his book. It is in its 2nd printing, 2008.

I note that on page 10, instead of ‘the land of the free and the home of the brave’ which I memorized in high school and I am not a Brown American, Ron Somera has ‘the land of the brave and the home of the free.’  He is trying to be funny at the expense of the Yankees? I myself like the Yankees; I can make fun of them where I sit (Manila).

The table of contents should show you what to expect from Brown American in 19 chapters:

c1. Journey of a lifetime
c2. My Hometown
c3. Family Tree
c4. War Comes to the Philippines
c5. Liberation Days
c6. Growing Up
c7. Education
c8. Working and Falling in Love
c9. A Foreign Student in America
c10. Hire Me
c11. Chicago – My Kind of Town
c12. Romantic Interludes
c13. Love, Courtship and Marriage
c14. California Dreamin’
c15. Odd Jobs for Survival
c16. Entrepreneurship
c17. New Profession and Parenting
c18. Final Employment
c19. Retirement

Great! This is what I gathered from those pages:

c1, start p10: Journey of a lifetime? He talks about being a fanatic watching Hollywood movies. (Intellectual journey. Been there, done that myself.)

c2, start p15: My hometown? He talks about Magellan discovering the Philippines. (Later, the Spaniards would colonize the Philippines for 450 years.) He talks about the Americans taking control of the Philippines. (That’s not very nice, is it?)

c3, start p22: Family tree? He talks about how courting a Filipina is courting the family first. Then he climbed a pomelo tree for a pretty girl with dimples on both cheeks – and fell. He lost the girl, he bruised his leg. Lucky fellow.

c4, start p30: War comes to the Philippines? He talks about the absurd idea that a small power like Japan can destroy the greatest armada in the Pacific. It’s a long story, 21 pages to be exact.

c5, start p51: Liberation days? He talks about when the American soldiers left, their shoeshine business left also. But English as the medium of instruction stayed.

c6, start p61: Growing up? He talks about how he chiseled a violin out of wood himself – and made the heaviest violin in the world! And he learned from GI soldiers that the best beer in the world was San Miguel, our very own. I love my own, my native land.

c7, start p76: Education? He talks about how at UP Los Baños he had not learned the culinary arts – he didn’t know how to cook sinigang to save himself (from ridicule). Tough luck. When he became a Cadet Major in ROTC, the girls went after the Colonels. Tough luck!

c8, start p83: Working and falling in love? He talks about rejecting the offer of Jun Catan to join MAPECON, and how Jun Catan became a millionaire many times over after that. (If he had joined, would Jun Catan have become a millionaire?)

c9, start p93: Foreign student in America? He talks about meeting a machine for the first time and wondering how this huge refrigerator could gorge out a peanut-butter cookie and a soda. It was a vending machine.

c10, start p122: Hire me? He talks about having a hard time handling American idiom as a copywriter. (Copywriters are always having a hard time handling American idiom. I know – I was a copywriter once myself.)

c11, start p136: Chicago – my kind of town? He talks about his dedication, pouring his energies promoting Philippine culture through dance, music and fashion. And the biggest annual event was the Rizal Day Dinner-Dance Gala. (Should Rizal have been proud?)

c12, start p145: Romantic interludes? He talks about how after several dates with the same girl, he popped the question – of religion. He lost the girl. And when he thought he had nothing to lose but her – he lost. It was another girl.

c13, start p152: Love, courtship and marriage? He talks about his favorite eatery, the Ponderosa Steak House. And he says, ‘Exactly nine months after our wedding, our daughter, Kim, was born.’ (Ron, who’s counting?)

c14, start p160: California dreamin? He talks about having a son, Ronald, ‘a gift from heaven.’ (Ron, aren’t they all?) And his friend said he wouldn’t have any problem moving to San Diego because it was ‘God’s country’ – the problem was too few jobs and too little pay.

c15, start p166: Odd jobs for survival? He talks about how his subordinates in K Mart were trying to sabotage his work because he had bypassed them in becoming Assistant Manager. He swore off joining another networking company, and then he answered just one more phone call …

c16, start p174: Entrepreneurship. He talks about the ukulele craze in the Philippines. When the demand for his mail-order books dwindled, what did he think of next? Food.

c17, start p184: New profession and parenting? He talks about how his children knew he was not a rich man – at that time. (He forgot he was rich in experience and in family. If you’re not successful, you can always be proud of your children’s success, like Ron Somera is.)

c18, start p189: Final employment? He talks about ‘the American Dream of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.’ (Now, that makes a lot of sense to me. If you can’t pursue happiness, at least you can pursue life – liberty without life is nothing.)

c19, start p192: Retirement? He talks about spirituality, his own and his family’s. He talks about Pastor Rick Warren and his book The Purpose-Driven Life. (That’s a mistake, Ron Somera – Rick Warren doesn’t need you or anybody else to endorse his book. It’s a bestseller such as it is already! And your book ends great without that Rick Warren insert at the end.)

Ron Somera had had his ups and downs – many ups, many downs. As a student of the University of Georgia applying for a part-time job, he had been discriminated against – he didn’t get it. He got a graduate assistantship at the Oklahoma State University (OSU) and a free room to stay in – in return for cleaning the clubhouse. With an MS from OSU, he had been a 2-week dishwasher. He had been jobless. He had been an apprentice PR man, then Assistant PR Director (big name, little pay), then a copywriter for Sears Roebuck. He had been a producer of cultural shows for Fil-Ams. He had been a band leader (he has music in his ears). He had been a cartoonist. He had been a Catalog Mail Order Manager. He had been unemployed once again. He had been discriminated against again applying for a job as Postal Carrier. He had been Assistant Manager at K Mart. He had been a mail-order man. He had been a marketing man (for a mouthwash). He had been an empanada factory owner. He had been an optician making and selling eyeglasses. Last but not least, he had been President of Podee International, seller of Mr Cueto’s ‘Hands-Free Baby Feeding Bottle.’ What a life!

If a short, not-so-good-looking Brown American can more than survive, why can’t you? A college degree isn’t necessary, not even an MS degree, as his experience shows – but a degree of faith in family, in oneself and more in God are necessary.

Ron Somera now resides with his one and only wife of 35 years Millicent Pasaporte and 2 children, Kimberly and Ronald, in a well-appointed, affluent home in San Diego, California: 5 bedrooms, 5 TV sets, 5 computers, 6 cars, 1 piano, 1 karaoke, 1 Jacuzzi, 1 family room with 1 TV set, 1 happy home. He has time in his hands – he is retired. 70, he has begun to bald, bulge, bifocal. He doesn’t worry about the future. He is settled where he is. He’s happy, as you can see in his book. He cannot cross the same river twice, but he goes back to the same lovely home again and again. If he goes somewhere else, it will be another Home. That will be sometime yet, and he’s not in a hurry.

As sure as there’s winter, spring, summer and fall, there’s a lot more to read in Ron Somera’s little Brown American book of 196 pages. Like, how to survive a war in your country and ostracism in another country – they’re not so different, are they? You never know if you will survive.

All in all, to me, the message of Brown American is this: Look at your past, look at your present, look at your future, and while you’re looking, remember you have a God – and smile.

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