Feliz Año Nuevo!

Thirty six years ago this month, my folks have been blessed with a bouncing baby boy. However, there was one problem – the boy was born with a Congenital Talipes Equinovarus (CTEV) or in layman’s term, “clubbed foot”.

With questions of uncertainty day in and day out, my parents’ weariness and confusion have been replaced by helping arms, and tons of steadfast faith from families, relatives and friends at home and overseas.

I cannot imagine my folks dealing with the pain seeing their youngling’s feet casted and recasted on a weekly basis at the Philippine Orthopedic Hospital. It was not how they have expected to rear their first born but, they are both helluva fighter, and they made it.

I was too young to tell any tale about my physical pain struggle in the confines of the hospital, but here’s what I have learned all throughout the years that I have been blessed a chance to literally walk the Earth.

1. Acceptance is the key. People are different in many ways and there is no other way to understand people but to accept them – regardless of their complexion, their language, or their physical forms. Everyone is not born equal. No one is special. One person is uniquely created to serve different purpose from another.

I have learned that to accepts one’s physical being regardless if they are a family or not, is the best gift I could offer. Creating a support sytem gives someone in need a foundation to start building their confidence and sense of belongingness.

2. Faith is the answer. No matter what you have been going through, no matter how many times you have failed, if your faith is steadfast, there’s always that higher power that eventually draws you to or atleast gets you closer to success, triumphs and victories, no matter how much you have been hurt falling facedown.

It does not matter how you really behave in a societal and religious context. You would always have that someone or something you strongly believe in, that keeps your will to try and to do greater things – be it your spirit warrior, your gods and goddesses, your guardian angels or even your love ones who have gone before you – they keep your anger away.

3. Humility is life’s best lesson. Like any other being, you should be allowed to fail, to make bad decisions, to be inflicted harm and pain. It will build your character, it will help you discern things, it will make you stronger. Let all your marks and scars from falling down and breaking apart serve as reminders that you fought valiantly like a warrior and conquered kingdoms like a king, at the same time, the same marks and scars should keep your feet on the ground.

4. Have a grateful heart. As a soulful being, you must show gratitude to your family, to your friends, and to all the people whom you have met along the way. You should practice the cycle of generousity and give back; and be an instrument of your faith. Be cheerful.

5. Pursue happiness. The world as we know it, will never be fair and just, but you have the power to be a medium of justice and peace. Not because some people malevolently treated you means you are entitled to malign others. Not because other people corrupted their decency and thoughts means you have to corrupt yours. Regardless of what you are dealing with on a daily basis, get up in the morning and retire to bed at night with the thought that is craving for unperturbed happiness; lastly,

6. Kick some ass. Well, figuratively. Dare to achieve small tasks, big tasks, risky tasks. Do it without expecting something in reciprocity. If you fail, do it again like the way you redo a power nap by hitting the snooze button. Do it many times, as long as you can. Stir it like you are making your morning coffee without the help of a barista. That sense of accomplishment at the end of every job well done is an awesome feeling that you know you so well deserve – that fist pump – that sigh of relief – that big grin – use them to drive your will to live and be a gift of life to others and use it to strive for more goodness.

Look around you! We are different! But under that black, white or brown skin is a stinky flesh and blood that will eventually end up rotting six feet under.

Happy New Year, everyone!


Drink with the Boys, Work with the Men!

Few years ago, I was working as a construction helper under a three month contract without any dayoff. I was young and being physically able, I wanted to put in more dough in my pocket. Everyday, my dad drives me to my worksite as it is on his way to work.

One night after a long day work, my closed friends agreed to hangout for few beers to unwind and enjoy the weekend; good enough to relax for next day’s work, I said, “Sure why not!”

Those few beers turned into kegs and the last thing I know, I’m being ushered in bed by my father in the wee hours of the break of dawn.

At 6 o’clock, my father woke me up for work, and I said, “I don’t feel like working as I am still recuperating from being hammered few hours prior”.

My father wasn’t pleased. He asked me to sit down on the side of the bed and started telling me, “You are going to work! You drink with the boys, you will go work with the men!”.

As he charged out of the room he stopped, looked back at me, and said, “You are walking to work!”.
At present, that event has kept me getting up early every sunrise to be as prompt as possible not only for work but in all life’s aspect. I have learned that respect and responsibility are two things that foster a good professional ethic.

I have also come to humbly appreciate the roles of every people I have worked with. That despite playing a lead or cameo in a company, everyone becomes a vital part to get the cogs of a machine going, to get the system up and running.

Those three straight months of labour job I did in the past has given me a clearer perspective of how people behave in an organization, that one warm body differs from another – in views, in sights, in dispositions – work ethics in general.

Just recently, I went out for a luncheon meeting with my former boss, a very nice guy who knows how to take care, not only his businesses but the people who take care of his businesses. As we are escorted to our table by the wait staff, my former employer politely thank the lady and asked, “Thank you, how is everything so far in this restaurant today?”, to which the lady replied, “It’s okay!”; and out of coriousity, I asked, “Well, what can we do to make it a great day?”. The wait staff answered, “Just by asking me that, my day is better.”

My former boss then asked the lady if she is looking for a job.

What happened after that luncheon meeting has changed one life, absolutely.

Point being, anyone can be in a one big room with everyone. But I personally do not care if you are the biggest cat in the room. For as long as you know how to treat others with respect and with a deeper sense of responsibility, even if I do not know you personally, I will safely say that whoever is around you would become a better person, and no matter where and how life takes them, if they are treated justly and fairly, everything, to them will be regarded as a cycle of generousity – at work, at home, in the community.

We build characters not only by our words but by our actions.

When I walked to work that day going to my labour job, I knew that every step I took gave me a deeper discern of responsibility and a higher degree of respect, not only to how I should behave as a part of a team but to the job itself, where people expect me and my team to accomplish great things.

So everytime I go out drinking with the boys, I always make sure that the following sunrise, I rise up to slug it out with the real men.

What Generally Constitute A Harassment in the Workplace

I work two jobs (one fulltime FT and another part time PT). Today, I did not expect that my FT job would require me to extend work hours, which I still did for half an hour. 

My co-worker, who acts as my immediate supervisor knows that I work two jobs in two different shifts and pretty much have been informed of my work schedule – FT in the daytime, PT at night time. 

I am supposed to be off work at 3:30pm from my FT job, but since I am working five minutes away from our yard, I decided to work for another half an hour. No big deal. I did all the hardwork. 

At 4pm. I asked our informal authority politely if my other co-worker could give me a ride back to our yard because I am running late for my PT job. 

He yelled, “Really?”, and he went on telling me, “You know if I cut you loose, I might as well cut everybody loose”. 

He went on by angrily saying, “You have to decide to either keep this job or that job!”

I did not say anything out of respect to elders. But there are few things he did not know how my work schedule have been pre-arranged with our big boss.

Let me tell you. When I got my PT job and was asked by the owner of the company I am working full time if I am ready to work more hours, I answered him honestly by saying “No, because I now have a PT job” which turned out alright to him. 

He even asked me about my PT job, which I told him, it’s a night/graveyard shift in the hospitality industry. And jokingly, he even teased me of  “coming for drinks on my tab”, which we of course, agreed. 

Back to my point – harrasment in the workplace.

Why did I say harassment? This supervisor likes to yell at workers, be it consciously or not. 

And just by the way he handled my situation, he displayed a behaviour that constitute “abuse of a situation of formal or informal authority or power to threaten a person’s job or undermine his or her performance”. This is listed in the Government of Canada’s “What generally constitute harassment”
I am planning to file a formal complaint, not only because of what happened today but also for the yelling/shouting he did in several occassions. Last thing I checked, he was an employee like me. A senior by tenure, but his title is nowhere near the managerial level. 

He thought that he owns his workers. I am thinking, maybe because my coworker and I are not in the skill trade, and that we are working entry level positions (over a year). 

I do believe that respect all across the workplace is a skill in itself that everyone should practice. There are days that things will absolutely go south at work and tempers are high, but forgetting the basic human rights be it at home, in the job or within society has no excuse. 

I am contemplating to file a formal complaint, but like any other person, I am still in the process of getting merits for my case. 

We are the Salt of the Earth

Dead and Crispy
“Dead and Crispy” by Leo Aguinaldo (Fall 2016)

For those of you who do not know; and, for those of you who unwittingly pass judgement on foreign-looking people with heavy accents and broken English grammars, there is a political term that everyone calls us – we are “Foreign Workers” – others call us, “Overseas/Migrant Workers”.

You openly compare us to a weed that grows out of nowhere or out of place, like a dandelion that suddenly sticks out in a yellow bed of Canola or a green stretch of Alfalfa in the Summertime, but for “us, weeds that grow out of nowhere”, there’s so much more stories to tell – so much more to life than speak good English according to your standards.

Our life is not easy, and for most, it never will be. Don’t patronize nor sympathize, but let this sink in, in your superficial minds – Can you imagine the emotional torture that probably most of us, “Migrant Workers” have to go through to be able to provide table staple from a greener pastures for our respective families back to where we come from?

Like any other modern family, we have parents, spouses, kids and extended families that we have to reluctantly leave behind to perform the duties that locals overseas won’t, or to be brutally honest, can’t deliver.

Yes! The $10/hour job that nobody wants to work for abroad is equivalent to a dream job back in our homelands. That’s a lot of money, literally. But the implication is a lot of pain too, and rough patches to go through too.

It’s never easy to leave the ones we love, the place where we’re born and raised, and turn our backs to the profession we drudged our ages in the University (where in most cases, our parents paid for) in exchange for a Low-Skilled job abroad.

Literally and figuratively, distance is a mental pain that we have to deal with; knowing that we can work white collar jobs back home with less money to make than brewing your morning coffee, baking your fat-loaded doughnuts or flipping burgers like spatula ninjas. Yes, we might have a fatter purse million miles away from our birth land but we work hard for it like anyone else who routinely follows an eight-working hour. Life is a brutal cycle of survival. We need to breath and live in the unending battle of the fittest or most of the times, battle of the wisest. Everybody does whatever it takes to stay alive, even at the expense of leaving our love ones in order for us to live. It is indeed very ironic but that is our nature – we all have Nomadic tendencies, we immigrate and honestly, we become slaves of the low skilled workforce.

We are not Expats. Know the difference. We are indispensable. Our stay overseas is governed under Immigration rules that changes anytime. If the government of our host country wants to send us back home, we cannot do anything but abide the law – we pack our bags and head home. If we are lucky, with few bundles of money in our pocket; if we aren’t, empty handed.

But like any other locals, we pay taxes and pension premiums; with a high hope that in due time we would be able to get access into our payment contributions when we decide to call it quits and have a laid back life by the lake or back in our native land. What stings sometimes is the fact that we are always begging for the government’s mercy to give us the permanent tenure that we all have been dreaming of getting. We got work but only for an allowable period. We got jobs but not a career, and that is the painful truth that every “Migrant Worker” faces.

We are our families’ sacrificial lambs, our kin’s collateral damage, but we endure, or at least, we are trying to. Again, it’s biting, but we walk away from our families because we endear them; and that we want to be able to provide for most of their needs. We have individual stories, beyond our inability to speak good English, or beyond patiently working in your most despised $10/hour job while being anti-social.

Do not thank us for just brewing your morning coffee, baking your fat-loaded doughnuts or cleaning your stinky hotel rooms. We are paid to do these jobs. We are the cogs of the machine that save your jobs. Thank us for working the job you despise for you to be able to work the job that pays you triple of what “Overseas Workers” make. We help you keep your lucrative jobs. We do, and you are welcome.

Don’t look down on us because we don’t look or act exactly like you. We don’t speak exactly the way you speak. Don’t laugh comparing the wage we make from the salary you get. Don’t lark at us because we are different from you. You won’t like it when we laugh at you because you are all the same. Inside our white, black, yellow or brown coated body is a stinky flesh just the same – rotten in death, decomposed in mud.

This is our life; not the same as yours. You don’t have to like us; you just have to co-exist with us. Yes, we are weeds, perhaps, thorny and ugly but we are good weeds, not exactly the kind that gives you high, but the kind that grows in the spring time, buds in the summertime, withers in the fall and dies in the wintertime; but we never end up fading. We go back to the soil and we become the salt of the earth.

Thin Layer of Ice

Photographer: LA Aguinaldo, Bud Miller All Seasons Park, Spring 2015

It’s finally Spring time and soon enough, as the snow melts down the drain, everything will be muddy, slushy and ugly – perhaps, dirty is the more correct term.

We have survived another gruelling Winter and for us to be breathing and grinding the life that is, is a huge consolation. Phatom this – you get to wake up everyday and get to see and experience both the good and evil sides of life; that, itself, is a miracle.

Another long cold season has yet again passed and gone, and slowly, like how we strip our garments layer after layer for the warmer weather, this is another time to contemplate and realise that indeed, life is like the many seasons that come and go, harsh, unforgiving, bleak, warm, nice, pretty much all at the same time.

There are days when we have to bear heavy burdens – we are mistreated, unjustly dealt with or harmfully beaten; and there are days when we walk on sunshine – we do ourselves and others a good job, we reciprocate generous deeds or we make someone smile. Still, we march forward.

All of these are constant reminders that like any other human being out there, none of our existence is special. We are never special. We will never be special. We all go through the same kind of journey, good, bad or ugly. No one is excused, no one is exempted. The only difference is how we take care of our own business and how we make it through.

Regardless of what we are going through right now, have a stroll around. Appreciate everything that your eyes can stare upon. Go out with your skateboard or bike, walk around the lake or the pond.

Look at those flock of wild ducks slowly heading back into their natural habitat. Stare at them – their feet struggle, yet they walk above an icy lake surface, slowly but safely. Learn from them – they migrate for survival. Emulate them – they are brave and courageous little creatures; exposed out there in the harshest of weathers, yet they make it through, exposed and naked.

Stare at yourself in the mirror. What do you see? Did you ever think you are lucky? You are sheltered from a bad storm, you expect three meals throughout the day and snacks to nourish your body in between (beer is a bonus). You do not scavenge and has never to fight nasty onlookers for food in the middle of the wilderness (Pizza Hut delivers, McDonalds has cheap meals), you do not sleep hanging in a tree (king size bed is now cheaper by the dozen).

So what is your trouble, really? Gratefulness is a gift where the cycle of generosity starts. Life is always a never ending battle of your inherent righteousness and the monster hiding under your bed or the skeleton in your closet.

So, no matter what time of the day it is or wherever you stand; no matter how you look at it, sober or under the influence; how thankful are you, really, to be alive above a thin layer of ice?

Don’t Confuse Faith with Religion

Growing up from a family of devoted Christian from a predominantly Catholic country, I have experienced attending Sunday masses, services, Bible Camps, Sunday Schools; and, even worked as an altar boy (acolyte) in church at such a young age.

At 15, I got re-baptised as a “Born Again Christian” when the leadership of my previous church turned dysfunctional, and caused factions among its abysmal members. Shortly, I became actively involved in Youth and Music Ministries in my new found congregation for the years that followed; but then again, the greed that has been slowly consuming the very foundation of the church is just unstoppable – evil and ruthless.

When I moved to Canada, I became a member of yet again, another congregation, and served as part of the 30-man or so Music Ministry that performs every hymns and anthems in Church during Sunday services, Holidays and Inter-Faith concerts. Safe to say, my Faith has always been steadfast, no matter how deeply rooted is the corruption that’s killing the church, defeating its main purpose of existence. The House of Prayer becomes a rather “organized religion” of wolves in sheep’s clothing. And like the previous churches I have attended, I stopped going.

Three summers ago, I moved to a small town, border of two big provinces in Canada, and got invited into another church. In fact, I got pretty closed to being a baptised member of that church, only until I found out that the Reverend resigned after being allegedly condemned by the other Pastors and Workers due to multicultural issues, particularly having its Caucasian church goers being threatened by the increasing number of immigrant and Non-Caucasian members.

This is surely a harder blow than having a church with dysfunctional leader/worker. It is a bigger disappointment and disgrace to learn that the very house that should literally serve as a welcoming hand to the faithful is the same house that creates and allows division and hatred. Ironically, a church should heal the wounds of disparity instead of adding fire into a deadly flame.

I stopped going not because I lost hope in Him but because I have found much better peace, speaking to Him privately, than being inside a building filled with church goers, looking sourly and passing judgement to a five-foot-seven-yellow-skinned man in prayer.

I stopped going because I lost interest in organized religions. Churches become more politically maligned and profit-oriented instead of being spiritually growing in the service – of the people and of the poor as their response to the call of God.

There’s a new church, a new attempt at bringing people together. Perhaps, a new symbol of hope in its infancy. If you ask me if I want to go, I have tried. I did go. But at the end of the day, I’ve realized that not all those who go to church are religious and faithful; and not because I stopped going makes me a backslider and got banished from God’s abundant pasture.


I have a realization. A more honest reality than what most churches think.
What matters most is the relationship I build with Him outside the church – in the gas alley, in the train station, in the kitchen, in the wash room, by the lake, by the shore, in my room, in the bar, in a small corner of my workplace or in a coffee shop, in my tenant permanent parking zone, on the bus, on the plane, on the train, in the patio, in the skate park, at the CrossFit gym, in the tennis court, and in any place where I could pause for a moment and talk to Him sincerely; inside the community, within the world.

(Credit: Photography by: LA Aguinaldo, Bud Miller All Seasons Park, Lloydminster, Alberta, Canada, Spring 2015)