Life With Libby

The shirts and jeans they wear in America.  The chocolate they eat every day in America.  The jewelry that all American women wear.  The scent of every American man.  The food found in every American table.

It’s America in a box.

Nobody looks forward to the tin cans that line the bottom of the Balikbayan Box, although they are found there by default.  Salmon, corned beef, potted meat, and other goodies do not get the same respect as shoes, but they do occupy a most honored and esteemed place on the cupboard.  After all, why would you eat imported Libby’s Vienna Sausage when Phillips costs around P29 a can?

The Vienna sausage is a quintessentially American product, one of the end-products of mechanically-separated meats.  It’s on the same level as SPAM, Chicken McNuggets, kikiam, and those alphabet-shaped fried things that my nephews are wont to eat.  In Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, the joys and pleasures of mechanical separation isn’t lost on the reader: boys falling into lard vats, for one.  Or women losing their fingers to gangrene from stuffing sausage in cold rooms.  Or old men dying from sores poisoned by pickling.

Of course, we’ve gone far beyond the stockyards of 1906 Chicago.  Meat is as safe as it’s going to get.  Yet there’s something about the texture and flavor of Libby’s that’s left in question.  It’s like an existential crisis on your taste buds.  Too smooth, a little plastic-like.  It does dispel the myth that you should throw the “poisonous” broth away.

Lasang Amerika, to put things lightly.

Maybe we, as a people, are lost in translation to the American experience.  I think that fifty years of American colonization, and over a century of cultural domination, has made us closer to the American mindset than any other nation on Earth.  The lot of us who have not stepped on American soil would know the tree from its fruit.  The struggles of the OFW may escape the empathy of people who do not understand – or refuse to understand – things like earning in dollars and spending in dollars.  Where clothes are often rummaged, not bought new.  That white picket fences and barbecues and everything about the American Dream are mere possibilities.  Distant ones, so it seems.

Yet those Libby’s cans will occupy a place of honor on our cupboards, perhaps many of us making stockpiles of them for years to come.  For some of us, these are things not meant to be eaten.  For those who bring them in, they are trophies of hard work.  Yet for those who take them in, they are tokens of a dream.  Not of an American dream, but of a dream of America.

Like an American box, or a box from America.  Or American Vienna sausage, or Vienna sausage from America.  There’s a big difference, and it’s more than just semantics.

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