Ever since Pres. Barack Obama was ushered into the highest position of the land in the United States on the back of a campaign built with the help of the internet and new media, the landscape of government has never been the same. The ease of Pres. Obama with tech, new media (bloggers), the web, and social networking sites is showing in the way the U.S. embassies around the world are slowly becoming open to bloggers being included in their events.
Right here in the Philippines, I am witnessing a new openness, a willingness by the U.S. Embassy to engage the citizens of the country they are living in and reach out to the ordinary man in the persons of bloggers. To me this is a delightful FIRST. After all, we bloggers do not hold any outstanding achievement in any political, cultural, academic or artistic arena. We are not part of large media organizations that are normally invited to cover embassy events. All we own is that piece of real estate in the blogosphere we can rightfully call ours where we exercise our right to freedom of speech and thought, where we express our opinions and dreams, and very rarely, rant.
Firstly, my wedding godchild (inaanak sa kasal), Jay de Jesus, became the first ever to join the U.S. Embassy in Manila as their Emerging Media Specialist for Public Affairs. That title is loaded!!! Jay is basically the point person for the embassy’s social network sites (SNS), really raising the bar of SNS as a major communication and feedback tool.
The very first invitation I received as a blogger from the U.S. Embassy was for a reception dinner at the USS Blue Ridge (the flagship of the US Seventh Fleet) when it docked in Manila for a visit.
Last Friday, bloggers got a second invitation. This time, it was a reception for the U.S. Cultural Affairs Attache, Alan R. Holst, and the Assistant Cultural Affairs Attache, Joseph Tordella.
The cozy dinner, hosted at the home of Counselor for Public Affairs, Richard W. Nelson, was meant to introduce the two to Manila’s cultural circuit. Present were people representing their own spheres of influence in the arts, music, literature, sports, theater, education and so on. The Cultural Affairs spearheads, sponsors, and is involved in several projects in these fields. Professional visits and exchange programs between the Philippines and the United States are handled by these officers.
Spotted in the cultural crowd were Boots Anson-Roa, Leo Martinez, Rapa Lopa, Atoy Co and another basketball star during my time. We spoke for some time with Tony Perez (a popular spirit questor who, I was surprised to find out, has been with the embassy for some time now). I bumped once again into good friend Jim Paredes who I seem to be seeing often these days. Of course his being there was as part of the music industry.
As a child, I learned so much about the American way of life and its culture from the Thomas Jefferson Information Center (TJIC) along Araneta Avenue in Sta. Mesa. I had my own library card and often went there to borrow not just books (5 at a time too!) but LP records as well. Oh how I enjoyed those visits! It broke my heart when they left that place and transferred to Makati which was too far for me to visit regularly as a student. Browsing the US Embassy website earlier, I’m so happy to see that the TJIC is very much alive now although it’s already moved to the US Embassy grounds. Problem is, I could not find the link to the Cultural Affairs agency! Maybe it will be added soon.
Now I’m dreaming bigger. It is my hope that as other embassies and international organizations in the Philippines see the pioneering thrust of the U.S. Embassy to include bloggers in its communication loop, they too will consider opening their doors to us. As a blogger, I truly enjoy these encounters because I love meeting people of different nationalities. It’s also a chance for me to bring my blog readers closer to the countries represented by these embassies and share these experiences with them in a more personal way.
Kudos to the U.S. Embassy in Manila for embracing bloggers!
You can follow the U.S. Embassy at the following social network, video and photo sites: