Waking up to being Filipino

When I was a junior in college I was a delegate of a leadership congress called the Ateneo Student Leaders Assembly. I was surrounded by people who were mostly taking up courses in business or health science. They wanted to put up social enterprises, teach the less fortunate, and reform the health system. Me? I felt like I was the odd one out. I was a communication major. How the heck am I supposed to help in nation building?

Oh wait. I can write.

My skills lay in generating awareness and putting together the message that people need to hear.

While I have friends who are doing volunteer work in the government, my writing is my form of public service.  The power of the pen. Or in this case, the power of the internet and this blog. There are so many people doing great things in different industries but they lack the exposure they deserve to empower others of their story. National building isn’t just limited to government work.

Everything begins with self-awareness. Be awake to who you are. Only then will you know how to speak up, in whatever way that you can.

Wake up, Philippines, so you can speak up. My article on Interaksyon answering the question ‘What’s a Filipino?’

The Philippine struggle for national identity reminds me of Hans Christian Andersen’s tale of the ugly duckling.

Compared to the other ducks, our protagonist has a longer neck and a bigger body, which is why it was judged to be ugly. But one day, while swimming in the river, this bird saw his reflection in the water and was shocked to discover that the duck was actually a swan.

What’s the moral of the story?

The bird was a square peg trying to fit into a round hole, and as a result, felt confused and insecure about who it was in the process.

In our case, the Filipino is not a duck, but a swan.

It symbolizes the need for self-awareness,  that we are neither completely Asian nor American; brown nor white.

As a pure blooded Filipina, born in Indonesia and raised in an international high school, I used to feel that my “coño” accent and ineptitude at speaking Tagalog fluently inhibited me from feeling and not just beingFilipino.

The difference is that the former requires an active commitment while the latter doesn’t.

But one day I had a reckless realization about the Philippines’s 7,107 plus islands; our rich history of colonization under the Americans and Spaniards; and thousands of Filipinos working overseas.

The archipelago is just too big, the past too complex and the world too globalized to be encompassed by a singular definition on the perennial issue of “What is a Filipino.”

Debunking misconceptions

It’s not uncommon to hear that foreigners are better at sparking discourse about our country than Filipinos, which was evident in the recent Jimmy Sieczka video controversy.

I remember how during my senior year in college there was a blog entry that was written by my friend, a French foreign exchange student, which went viral among my peers.

Essentially she was debunking the preconceived misconception that there is no Philippine culture in our westernized country, when in fact, she is able to point out so many allusions to Philippine history in our city that Filipinos are typically unobservant to.

For example, Katipunan, the street Ateneans use to walk to school everyday is the name of an anti-Spanish revolutionary society. The Sunday markets in Salcedo and Legazpi village refer to two Spanish governors. Fort Bonifacio refers to Andres Bonifacio, the founder of the Katipunan.

In my case, I’ve been commuting via train for almost four years and it only hit me recently that one of the LRT stations was named after Betty Go Belmonte, the deceased former President of the Philippine Star.

After more than ten years of living here, I wonder what other allusions I failed to notice.

The Pinoy flavor 

However, the same observations and criticisms about the Philippines can be made by Filipinos who’ve travelled abroad and have come back to live in the city.

So, the underlying issue is not about foreigners pointing out what Filipinos can’t see. Rather, it’s how much we’ve been exposed to a world outside our own bubble and the commitment we make to be awake.

Regardless of whether you live in a poor or rich area, province or in the city, abroad or in the Philippines, it’s easy to take Filipino nuances for granted if you’ve never changed your scenery or talked to someone different.

In my response to my friend, I wrote that maybe the root problem of Filipino struggle is not of apathy but of blind complacency.

As the texting and social media capital of the world, the trouble is not in sparking sentiment but being perpetually stuck in it.

Maybe the Philippines has a hard time moving forward because this blindness is endemic—to what and how the Philippine’s can offer the world; to what countless of foreigners see that Filipinos don’t.

In fact, it was my friend’s blog entry that served as my rude awakening.

Little did I know at the time that by speaking up and writing my reaction down, I was sparking a flame of Pinoy pride that I never thought I would have. I was feeling Filipino and not just being one.

In the more than ten years that I’ve been living here, it’s only now that I see how Filipinos always love adding their own flavor to anything—from dousing rice with toyo, suka, or Maggie Savor to creating Lip Gloss, a local rendition of Gossip Girl and other foreign shows.

I see how we have a penchant for People Power, not only in mobilizing revolutionary movements, but online through social media, support for Jessica Sanchez on American Idol, or defending our kin in adversity.

The wake-up call

 I’ve written before about how being a Filipino isn’t a birth right.

Neither does it run through the blood in our veins.

Rather than be compartmentalized on trivialities like skin color, language or class, it’s characterized by the attempt to understand, to defend our country tooth and nail and the strive to improve it.

However, similar to Andersen’s tale when the duck needs to look into the river to see the swan in its reflection, Filipinos first need to become self-aware of how they are Filipino—in their own way and no one else’s-before making that attempt.

Every person needs a stand point to view the world, or in this case the Philippines from.

As a third culture kid in my own country, my personal advocacy seeks to understand and spread awareness about the multicultural aspect of Philippine national identity. My background enables me to help bridge the local and the international world.

But for you, as an immigrant from China, Phil-Am, provinciano, an activist, or an artist, to be Filipino will mean something entirely different. We see life through different Filipino lenses. Your struggle is a Filipino’s struggle.

So, regardless of whatever your wake-up call is, for me to be Filipino begins with being self-aware enough to answer it.

View original article here.


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