I have been asked to deliver a talk on Philippine history and the roots of our identity. The prospect of which excites me, but then when I sit down to write my lecture I fall short and hit a wall. I feel that I am at a different place than where my listeners expect me to be.
Quite frankly, I don’t feel too Filipino. I’ve lived in this country all my life, I can speak the language, and I care about the country deeply. However, I identify myself more as Asian — whatever that means. That I can’t relate with the Filipino identity has nothing to do with my scorn for our politics and my despair for our economy. They are what they are. Instead, I am at odds with the Filipino identity culturally. My belief in self-determination often runs at odds with the deep groupism and religiousity of our people. In being pragmatic I have lost patience for our culture of patronage. And though I aspire to contribute to the upliftment of our people, I feel that I am increasingly unable to talk to them. I speak in Filipino only in situations where I need to build bridges, but at all other times I think, speak and write in English.
But what of being Asian? I wasn’t schooled in the West, but I may as well have been. Having learned English before Filipino opened me up to the culture and manners of the West (read: America), but I feel no kinship with them. Historically, my roots are in these islands; my civic outlook has been shaped by the Philippine revolutionary ethos. Spiritually, my roots are in the diverse traditions of Asia; my ethical sensibilities are characteristically Confucian, Buddhist and Daoist. Thus it isn’t odd to me that I feel most myself when I travel to countries like China and Thailand. It is not surprising then that even if I never get to Europe in my life, it would mean the world to me to go to India. It is in the otherness of these Asian cultures that I feel closest to who I really am.
Identities, after all, are never static. Who we are is defined by where we are. What I feel is nothing strange; what’s strange is where I am. That I am at odds with Philippine culture despite being Filipino is an experience many second and third generation emigrants often feel. But I am not an emigrant. I live in the mainland and yet my experience is akin to those who grew up outside of it. I guess that’s exactly it.
I will take this invitation to talk about identity to discover my own. I am aware that besides history and culture, there are political and economic facets to identity as well. It would be fun to discover how I got here, but the real challenge is to chart where we, as one people, are heading next.