Words and images were aplenty at The Joshua Tree show at Philippine Arena. Photograph from ABS-CBN News

Behind the poem about Filipino maids used in the U2 concert at Philippine Arena

“U2’s songs and lyrics were light in the dark and nameless streets of my early years in America,” said Realuyo, the man behind “Filipineza,” which was used at last night’s U2 show.
ANCX | Dec 12 2019

“The better to work here in a house full of faces I don’t recognize. 

Shame is less a burden if spoken in the language of soap and stain.

My whole country cleans houses for food, so that 

the cleaning ends with the mothers, and the daughters

will have someone clean for them, and never leave

my country to spend years of conversations with dirt.” 

The poem is called “Filipineza” and it’s one of the poems that greeted excited audiences yesterday evening at the one-night-only performance of U2 at the Philippine Arena (they also used Eric Gamalinda’s “The Opposite of Nostalgia,” it turns out). Flashed on the gigantic screen as a prelude to the show, the poem is about the pains and struggles of Filipino domestic helpers in Europe. 

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There were a number of messages in Filipino flashed on the screen at last night's U2 gig. Photograph from ABS-CBN News

The poem is by Filipino poet and novelist Bino Realuyo. It is the piece that opens his acclaimed poetry collection The Gods We Worship Live Next Door. According to the press statement, U2 wanted poetry “that expresses the experience of the country” it is performing in. The poem was meant to serve as something for the audience “to reflect upon while waiting for the show to begin.” Realuyo saw the invitation as a chance to bring poetry to a wider audience. But also, it turns out the band and its songs have personal significance for Realuyo. 

The poet grew up in Manila and immigrated to the US in his teens. “U2’s songs and lyrics were light in the dark and nameless streets of my early years in America,” he said in the press statement. “32 years of Joshua Tree is equivalent to the three decades of my immigrant American life. 

“There is ultimately poetic justice in being included in U2’s concert not in the U.S but in their first ever concert in Manila, the city of my birth. I am humbled and moved. I hope the poems do serve their purpose for inclusion —as points of reflection for those who attend the concert, and in the case of my poem ‘Filipineza’ to warn us about the dark side and perils of the Filipino diaspora.” The word "Filipineza" is defined in the modern Greek dictionary as “maid.”

This is not the first time U2 used poetry in their tour. In 2017 for the US leg of Joshua Tree, the concerts made use of poetry by the likes of Walt Whitman and Langston Hughes.

The poem “Filipineza” has appeared in many anthologies, clearly owing to its power. Karina Bolasco, formerly of Anvil Publishing and now of Ateneo Press, wrote on a Facebook post that the piece came out in Realuyo’s 2006 collection which was initially published by Utah Press. 

 Realuyo's The Gods We Worship Live Next Door 

“We did a local edition in 2008 when I was at Anvil because it’s such a powerful volume that ought to be read by Filipinos, no matter how small that audience might be. The year after, it won the National Book Award for poetry from the Manila Critics Circle,” wrote Bolasco. 

The book title, said Bolasco, is a nod to a poem by Bienvenido Santos from 1956, included in a collection called The Wounded Stag. “With the U2 act, two of our finest works, generations apart, by two of our finest writers, now become known to millennials.”