The HIP Pinoys of Chicago

POSTED: Friday, March 16th, 2012


When I say, I meet regularly with the HIP Pinoys of Chicago, you’d probably conjure up images of unshaven, young Filipino punks noisily crowding the hallways – shades of the flower children of the ‘60s. Well, vanish that thought. The Filipino expats I’m talking about are neither punks nor young, but yes, they’re folksy, noisy and funny too. They occupy at least one long row of tables at the Food Court of the HIP Mall (Harlem St.andIrving Park Norridge, a suburb inWestern Chicago. That’s how the HIP PINOY term was coined.


            It has become daily routine for many senior retirees in the area to go mall-walking then spend time making light banters while snacking (some younger working guys have also gravitated to join the motley group during their off hours). They appropriate a portion of theFood Court. Management, for some reason, has apparently accepted the Pinoys as part of the permanent fixture there. In fact some Food stations like Sbaru and Tom & Jerry give special discount if the magic password “Team Pacquiao” is uttered.


            The HIP Pinoys come and go. Some leave as others come starting from early a.m. to late p.m. This loose congregation of “kabayans” doesn’t really have a hierarchy of officers but it has successfully organized activities and conducted events held for various purposes. Everybody play their role without any official designation.


            What drew my interest to join the group initially was my desire to interview a cross section of the Filipinos inUSAand learn their travails and successes for a possible future project. I’ve done this before, writing about my stint as volunteer at St. Margaret Mercy Hospital in Indiana, Oak Park Arms and Martha Washington senior homes. I published at the I.S.  my  experiences attending painting, ceramics, lapidary and language classes at the Oak Park-River Forest Senior Center, the medical mission at Rizal Center and membership with the Knights of Rizal, Philippine Performing Arts of Chicago and various religious orgs.


            After having joined the “table” a few times and getting acquainted, I and my wife Beth, gradually immersed into the group. The company has become enjoyable and addictive. We felt a subconscious pull to visit HIP Mall regularly to stretch our legs, window shop, then, join the lively discussion.


            I feel lucky to have met and talked with some of the most interesting and colorful personalities I’ve ever met.


            The cast of HIP Pinoy characters can compare with those of the classic life story written by early Filipino expat Carlos Bulusan. The spectrum of characters range from the very serious to the most inane joker type.


            One personality that stands out is Blitz Escotal. This funnyman from Hinigaran, Negroscould give Comedy King Dolphy a run for his money. He makes fun of everyone including himself spinning jokes in his lilting Ilongo accent. His town mate pal Sergio Flores admits they both came from the Mental Hospital in Mandaluyong – not as patients though, but as nurses, he is quick to clarify. It was there, they recall, where Joseph Estrada was a casual employee unlike them who were permanent. It was there too where he met and wooed his original (1st) wife Dr. Luisa Pimentel-Ejercito. Erap’s mental level could attest to the veracity of this revelation, they said.


            The zany tandem, Tugo and Pugo, minus the shaven pates are Blitz and Sergio – Blitz is the riot and Sergio the serious. I go home chuckling up to bedtime with Blitz’ jokes still ringing in my ears. Despite his braggadocio, Blitz is a bona fide member of the Takusa Gang (takot sa asawa). His cell phone rings. He meekly answers in a low voice, “yes dear, I’m coming home right now”. He turns it off, then, in very loud voice for the crowd to hear, “You know I’m busy here talking to people, I will go home later. Just take a shower and prepare our bed for tonight”. He’d proudly address the group, “ That’s my wife Nena” then excuses him self and make a fast exit. The boys would yell, “Attaboy Blitz, that’s the way to tell her”, riding along with his gimmick.


            Joe Ong is another special personality. This amiable Chinoy from Calamba calls himself P.I. – initial for Probinsyanong Intsik. Most often he ends up the butt of Blitz’ Chinese jokes yet he never gets ruffled taking it all in fun. His wife Rose, also a Fil-Chinese fromSiquijorIsland, now a nurse atWestSuburbanMedicalCenterplays gracious hostess to the group’s singing practices and meetings in the basement of theirNormandyhome. Blitz says he’s careful cracking his jokes when Rose is around fearful she might get sore and dump him out in the cold with Joe.


            According to Blitz, Tony Lee, a retired civil engineer fromSamaris like a Lexus Hybrid that runs on battery (pacemaker) and regular fuel. Tony’s experience as a former contractor gave him first hand insight on government deals,(shady or otherwise) and Philippine political affairs (circa ‘80s and ‘90s). I agree with many of his socio-political analyses of the present situation. According to Blitz, his wife, Lulu sometimes drops by to check on him like a project inspector during his construction days.


            Omar Soriano, a young looking Vietnam War vet talks sparingly but stresses his authority on issues about the military. He is a second generationUSservicemen, his dad being a Philippine Army Scout ranger which was absorbed by the USAFFE after WW II. His Japanese mother gave birth to him inOkinawabut When his Mom died while he was still a baby he was brought to Tugegarao, Cagayan where he was raised to manhood by his stepmother until he rejoined his Dad in US.  His wife is a nurse atCookCountyHospitaland his son and daughter-in-law are both third generation USN marines stationed inSan Diego,Cal. You can’t beat that for loyalty to old Uncle Sam.


            One snowy afternoon, I was at the receiving end of a two-hour monologue from Felix Villanueva, the Exterminator from Tagudin (pest control – not the Swarzenneger type). He disclosed his past dealings with rich and powerful clients spicing up his vitriolic diatribes with a litany of crispy cuss words crackling from his mouth like chicharon.


            An octogenarian Ilocano elderman who loves to be called Colonel said his brother is a general in the AFP and they remain steadfastly loyal to Past President Gloria            because of her “proven honesty”. He said his brother general in one private moment asked her, “Ma’m, kurap ba kayo?” (Ma’m are you corrupt?). She answered categorically, “Hindi ako kurap, yan lang asawa ko” (No, I’m not corrupt, only my husband is). Truly said, you can’t have any more honest statement than that.


 Caveat, be careful showing off your jewels if it’s not 14K and perfect cut D, The Colonel would bring out his electronic detector and deflate your vanity.


            Age, it seems, is the only common denominator between the flamboyant Colonel and Prof Aga (short for Agapito). Here is another octo who at 86 still shows remarkable dexterity on the piano keyboard. The Professor is a UST conservatory of music graduate. He lives alone simply and drives a vintage Ford Thunderbird that amazingly could bring him to HIP Mall and the music school where he tutors. This very eligible bachelor says he’s open to a relationship with any woman who would keep him company. He’s financially solid and willing to provide generously to a live-in partner. Blitz said, “That would be a really great love affair. His partner would just close her eyes and dream she’s sleeping with Aga Muhlach”.


            Dodong Cadiz, who looks like one of the spy from the cold with his pelt hat and jacket, keep those penetrating eyes disguised behind his thick dark shades as curvaceous chicks pass by.  Blitz couldn’t resist commenting, “Dog is all bark but no bite or more appropriate is – all saliva – no bite” .


            Doods Bonsol from San Luis, Batangas is another walking pharmacy. He wears a pacemaker and takes all sort of medicine for diabetes, high blood pressure, cholesterol, anti-coagulant, and kidney. He does regular dialysis but this portly man that sports an oyster shell Rolex and diamond studded ring keeps himself active by regularly coming to HIP Mall. He is even scheduled to travel to thePhilippinesnext month to visit his investment and real estate holdings.


            There is a Batangueno group within the group. They are conspicuous by their laud talk in thick “Alaeh” accent. Pol Ebreo from Lobo who comes in the afternoon is immediately distinguishable in his black beret and glasses. His life story from rags to US is itself a separate story to tell. He is a retired Postal Service personnel.

            The Batanguenos are a varied lot. They represent a demographic representation of the different areas of their province from the western shores ofBalayanBay, theTaalLakebasin, the Rosario-Lipa-Tanauan (ROLITA) central highland corridor, and the Southern coastal towns of Mabini-Batangas-Lobo-San Juan. To mention some of them that I’ve met: the Mantuano brothers Ben and Ernie of Lipa; Lucero brothers Ben and Jun of Lemery; Vic Macatangay, an ex-Manila Chronicle deskman from Batangas City; Mar Andal who owns a Fighting Cock Farm in San Luis; Pol de Gracia; Leo Aspi from Mabini; Pierre Carlson accountant Jerry Bianzon from Taisan; former PNB auditor Patricio Zuno from Rosario. Many of the HIP Pinoy wives are also Batanguenas:.Aida Tupas fromSan Juan, Lumen Carandang from Tanuan


Although it is mostly the men who sit around the tables, some ladies join them too. The “kumanders” usually go window shopping while the boys busy themselves verbally tackling the “problems of the world” but sometimes they digress to air their own domestic woes (wives, children, relatives, doing chores at home, etc.) CNN could probably invite some of these guys to spice up their talk shows.


Readily noticeable is the presence of an auburn-haired lady in the group. She is Tammy Bartell, a full-blooded American girl of Irish-Polish-Italian lineage. She obviously enjoys spending her break time from her work at Target to chat with the Pinoys. Blitz, by his own authority has designated her as the muse of the HIP Pinoys.


Another “white cover” habitué is Elena Hutchinson, a mestiza fromSan Francisco(Del Monte, Q.C.). This lady who works at Kay Jeweler at the Mall’s North side could be sharp when provoked. She said her straight talk and fortitude was what carried her through in life. She raised single-handed her three boys and one girl who are now all professionals and live their own family lives. The same is true with Severina Gamad, renamed here at HIP as Barang. She was a hospital technician who sent not only her own daughter through college but her nieces and nephews in thePhilippinesas well. Bless her kind soul. Blitz said, “Now that she has accomplished her mission on earth,  may be a Good Samaritan would pass by and agree to take her as his Sugar Mama – if the sugar has fermented and gone sour, then she could just be his “Vinegar Lola”.


Wilma, a UP pharmacy grad, still a livewire at her age (secret), provide the spark for her soft spoken hubby Roger Minas who just takes it easy savoring the proceeds of his windfall inheritance in Zambales. Wilma and Beth Bago, wife of Rene, my province mate from the Mangyan hinterland of Mindoro (he claims to have resided almost entirely in the civilized city ofCaloocan) spearhead the periodic “invasion” to the Rivers Casino. Rene and Roger alternate on the wheels navigating the highway through rain, snow or sleet. The Bago couple’s lively arguments provide excellent entertainment to keep them awake on the road.


Another couple is Rene and Lumen (Carandang) Abarro  ofIloiloand Tanuan, Batangas.  Rene is a retired accountant. He used to be a med-rep for United Laboratory inManilawhile Lumen was a medical doctor. That’s probably how they met. When they migrated to US, she opted to take care of her young children while Rene worked. She only got to work herself when the kids were all grown ups. They are now successful professionals in their own right. The couple has constructed a vacation house in her hometown of Tanuan where they intend to spend some of their time.


There is also Emmanuel and Alice Rabor fromCebu. He used to be a member of the Philippine Archery team during the ‘50s. His archery skills come in handy whenever they shop at Target, Blitz surmised.


Vangie, a spritely Tondo girl, works on two jobs at McDonald and Panda (a.m. and p.m.) right at theHIP Food Court. She makes it a point to join the group before switching job and during break time. Everybody hope that she realizes her dream of opening her own franchise. At the rate she’s working (like a carabao, she says), It wouldn’t be surprising if we find her one day running that Panda establishment. Blitz says he wouldn’t dare tangle with this tough kid.


I could run out of pages writing all the names of the HIP Pinoys and their respective life stories.  There is Victoria Reyes Parada of Hagonoy, Albina Amilhasan ofCavite. There is talent galore with the likes of painter Danny Gipolio, dialysis technician Arnel Mercado who used to be a champion singer from Polilio Island, stage director/producer Jerry Revero , real estate executive Dino Contreras and many others I am faintly acquainted with.


Manny Lopez from Atimonan and his wife Lulu just came back from a trip to the

 Philippines. Lulu is fromParanaquebut her mother belongs to the Zoleta clan of Abra de Ilog, Occidental Mindoro.


Noel Arcilla, a retired US Navy man and his wife have already left for their annual sojourn to La Union andBaguiowhere they own a beauty salon and rental apartments.


Some of the prime movers of this group responsible for undertaking activities are Ernie Mantuano, August Sevilla, Ruben Purificacion, Cesar Geronimo, Tony Santos, Peping Calara, Mario Dayag, Popoy Gonzales, etc.


What keeps the HIP Pinoys going is something for sociologist to analyze. It is everything that an organization is not supposed to be. In fact it is just a gathering of Pinoys. No officers run it. It has no defined head, arms, feet, eyes or ears. Like an amoeba, it is a mere body that can assume any form, move and accomplish what it aims to do.


Unlike other Pilipino groups, the HIP Pinoys do not fight among themselves for leadership and recognition. Like a stone, it gains momentum and gathers mass as it rolls in its natural course.


So far the HIP Pinoys have defied the much derided “crab mentality” we are all so noted for. Let us keep it this way. Let it serve as an eye-opener and example of unity in diversity among Filipino expats inAmerica. – by FDVillarica.  





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