S. Lily Mendoza is a native of San Fernando, Pampanga in Central Luzon, Philippines. She grew up in the small barrio of Teopaco next door to calesa drivers with their handsome horses and their backyard stables. She shared with her five siblings duties feeding pigs and raising chickens and collecting horse manure for fertilizing the small family garden. Although she grew up colonized (tutored by American missionaries and Peace Corps Volunteers and Filipino teachers who taught strictly in English), she retains memories of sitting at her Apu Sinang’s feet listening to stories, making sampaguita leis, and watching her Apu prepare her betel nut chew with much curiosity and fascination. As well, there were the home deliveries of fresh milk in unbranded glass bottles that you handed back when the milkman returned, and the early morning toot-toot of Apay Tinapay on his bike, the hot pandesal vendor, who magically kept the fresh-baked buns steaming in his big newspaper-insulated basket hanging by the side of his bike.
These and many more fond memories of her barrio childhood served as a gateway to her indigenous soul—memories that in her colonized socialization she formerly regarded with disdain, if not shame, as markers of poverty, rural backwardness, and the primitivism of small-town existence (their small nipa home then never even having seen the flickering shadows of a modern television set, or her barrio, the benefit of a giant grocery store that would have had milk and bread sold in “proper” industrial packaging). Now she recognizes that how she was raised—knowing where life’s sustenance comes from and nurtured by an intimate connection to soil, living story, and community—is what indigenous peoples meant by ginhawa (kapasnawan) or well-being.
Coming to the U.S. in 1995 for graduate study made her understand more clearly the end-logic of the West’s civilizational project—the poverty of spirit that accompanies so much affluence and commodity excess, the lack of community from individualism gone awry, the neurosis of an unfounded sense of entitlement and supremacy. Now living in the first de-industrialized city in the US with her activist-scholar-professor-poet husband, James (Jim) Perkinson, she finds herself sitting on the front row of history’s unfolding, her commissioned task that of bearing witness to the unraveling of Empire and its failed project of conquest and supremacy. Aided by indigenous memory and the still living witness of our land peoples, the Aytas, the Tedurays, the Bajaos, the Bontoks, the Manobos, the Talaandigs, the Tausugs, and many others, she longs for the birthing of new visions and desires, rooted no longer in linear narratives of progress and endless material accumulation, but in a healing return to the womb of Earth Mother and all her beings.
Currently, she is an eighth-year student at Martin Prechtel’s Bolad’s Kitchen School dedicated to “teaching forgotten things, endangered excellent knowledges, but above all a grand overview of human history…in the search for a comprehension regarding the survival of unique and unsuspected manifestations of the indigenous soul” (http://www.floweringmountain.com/boladskitchen). Besides learning how to grow a small vegetable garden with her hubby in the heart of Motown, she is also a scholar and faculty of Culture and Communication at Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan. She is the author of Between the Homeland and the Diaspora: The Politics of Theorizing Filipino and Filipino American Identities and the co-editor (together with Leny Strobel) of Back from the Crocodile’s Belly: Philippine Babaylan Studies and the Struggle for Indigenous Memory. Some of her other writings may be found on https://oakland.academia.edu/LilyMendoza