So who else isn’t feeling very Filipino?

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.

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2 Comments

  1. I always feel that I am a Filipino even though I have been away for 13 years, bakit, people can recognize my nose, hindi matangos, I always crave for Filipino food lechon, halo-halo, ube ic cream. but most of all, I always remember where I grew up, Bo. Bayanihan, malapit sa maricaban Pasay City, yes it has something with your economic bracket, doon nakatira kami sa kangkonngan, i’ve witnessed our house na binubuhat ng buong barangay para tumaas dahil binabaha, yong pasion pag Mahal na Araw, miss na miss ko yon dito sa US, ang Caroling pag Pasko, ang pakikipagsiksikan sa Baclaran tuwing Wednesday, dito sa US, mabibilang mo ang nagsisimba pero ang umaatend ng Opera at Ballet, puno ang teatro kahit noon pagkatapos ng 9/11. my homesickness is cured by reading blogs, dito wala kang makausap everybody is busy, kahit sa BART train humahabol ng tulog ang mga Pinoy on their way to their 2nd or 3rd job. i felt proud watching Leah Salonga performed at Herbst Theatre but I really feel so sad when a handful of people attended Jed Madela’s performance

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