“The whole world can be reduced to the beauty pageant,” Romeo says.
We are in National City, at the Point-Point Joint, a Philippine restaurant with a large African-American and Hispanic following. The Point-Point Joint got its name because its non-Filipino customers didn’t know the names of dishes, so they pointed to what they wanted.
I’ve come here to meet Romeo Marquez so that he can give me a quick tour of the Philippine community in San Diego, especially in National City.
That’s how he got on the subject of the beauty pageant. Romeo believes that it is almost an obsession with his community. But he is not Bert Parks, cheerleading the contestants through their beauty routines.
Part writer, part editor, part publisher, Romeo Marquez is the journalistic force behind Diario Veritas, the English-language, Philippine-community newspaper. At least through November 2000, the paper has come out monthly with a circulation of 5000 to 10,000 readers.
Romeo, a tall, middle-aged man with a graying ponytail, wears khakis, a long-sleeved sport shirt, and loafers. His eyeglasses are rimless, but that has more to do with practicality than style, he says, just as the ponytail is less fashion statement than political one. He grew the ponytail in June 1998, the same time he started Diario Veritas.
“That was a political statement I made, a kind of protest,” he says, referring to the ponytail. “I wanted to show that I did not conform to the set standards of the Philippine community. Incredibly, the ponytail attracted more attention than I wanted it to. Every time people asked me about it, I told them it was my way of showing my nonconformity with the way our community leaders and newspapers were doing things.”
The Point-Point Joint is filled with customers pointing to various dishes. One African-American customer points to the adobo, a chicken-and-pork dish cooked in soy sauce, vinegar, ground pepper, and lots of garlic. A Spanish-speaking customer points to the pancit, the popular noodle dish.
But before my attention goes to the food, Romeo reminds me of the tour he wants to give of National City.
We leave the restaurant and hop into his beat-up 1986 Nissan Sentra.
When I ask him to elaborate on the beauty pageants, he says, “Before I tell you about the beauty pageants, I’m going to take you to a fish market where it all began for me.”
As we drive away, I realize that Romeo is referring to his newspaper’s beginnings.
Three years ago Romeo Marquez stopped being the editor in chief of Philippine Mabuhay News and started Diario Veritas. Veritas means the truth in Latin. But Romeo started his newspaper in order to provide the Philippine community with the facts. He had a journalistic belief that the facts would lead to the truth.
“Nobody was telling the truth,” he says.
The Philippine community in San Diego is an old one. Its origins go back to the Filipino wives of American sailors coming back to the States from World War II. Today it is more than 200,000 strong, an ethnic group second only to the Mexican community in its size.
“I wanted to publish a newspaper that presented something more than photographs from yet another beauty pageant,” he says. “But I really started the paper because of the Philippines centennial events, including the unveiling of a statue of José Rizal, the national hero.”
José Rizal was a physician, novelist, and linguist. He was executed by Spanish firing squad in Manila on December 30, 1896. His execution triggered the Philippine revolution that led to the declaration of independence on June 12, 1898. The Spanish, who had ruled the Philippines for 300 years, executed Rizal because they suspected him of being behind a plot to topple them.
Rizal had been preparing to move to Cuba, though, as a volunteer doctor. He didn’t have anything to do with the revolution. Yet it was his execution that triggered the revolutionary events two years later.
Romeo Marquez laughs.
“Sometimes it seems like the entire world — at least the world as it is known in National City — can be reduced to the beauty pageant. I wanted to introduce a serious issue into the common dialogue that Filipinos engaged in.”
We have been driving around National City. Now Romeo Marquez pulls his beat-up car into a parking space in front of the Family Loompya market.
I look at the sign for the market and try to connect it with what Romeo Marquez has been talking about.
Finally I ask, “What does this have to do with José Rizal, beauty pageants, and the truth?”
He looks at me with pity because I am not seeing a set of connections that are so obvious to him.
“Money,” he says.
We enter the Family Loompya market, and my nose fills with aromas of the sea and the earth. The fish and meat and vegetables remind me of some place far from San Diego. The aisles, even though it is a morning in the middle of the week, are filled with customers, many of whom seem to know each other and shout greetings to their friends.
Some nod hello to Romeo Marquez. Others seem to scoot past him quickly. He says hello and moves on.
“When the Americans took over the Philippines from Spain after the Battle of Manila Bay, José Rizal was chosen as the best person to be a national hero and symbol for the Philippine struggle,” Romeo says as he picks up a melon, looks at it, then puts it down. “Rizal was chosen because he was a pacifist. A more likely candidate for historical sainthood was Andres Bonifacio, the leader who instigated the revolt in the first place. But Bonifacio did not fit the American ideal of a national hero. He came from Manila shantytown masses, and he favored armed struggle.”
A grandmother picks up a bunch of bananas, examining them for their quality. Philippine dialects are spoken in all directions. Romeo looks at the pechay next to the other greens, the cabbages and the lettuce. He nods that the quality is good.